The Story in a Glance
The article explores the rise of vaping in New Zealand and its impact on public health, raising concerns about the progress made in combatting smoking.
It begins with a historical overview, including the Tobacco Wars of 1989–1990 and the introduction of the Smoke-free Environments Act in 1990.
The Smoke-free Environments Act aimed to create smoke-free areas, ban tobacco advertising, and protect the public from secondhand smoke, with strong opposition from the tobacco industry and pro-tobacco sports associations.
Athletes and organisations like the Coalition against Tobacco Advertising and Sponsorship played a crucial role in supporting anti-smoking legislation.
Grassroots initiatives negotiated a buy-out fund to compensate sports organisations for the loss of tobacco industry sponsorship, leading to the creation of the Health Sponsorship Council.
The article discusses the tobacco industry's shift to vaping and its lobbying efforts to influence regulations in favour of e-cigarettes.
It expresses concern about the potential public health consequences of nicotine addiction, vaping risks, and the impact of the tobacco industry's promotion of e-cigarettes.
The article questions the lack of proactive measures to counter the rise of vaping, especially among young people, jeopardising progress made in the fight against smoking.
It emphasises the urgency of addressing the growing addiction issue among young people and protecting the dream of a smoke-free future as around 20 percent of young people currently use e-cigarettes.
Vaping, once considered a safer alternative to smoking, has raised concerns about its potential health hazards. In this blog article, I delve into why New Zealand allowed its introduction. I outline some history, so we can understand how much we've lost and why we now have a huge and almost insurmountable hurdle in the form of widespread vaping as it replaces smoking.
The Tobacco Wars (1989–1990):
In 1990, overcoming intense opposition, New Zealand introduced the Smoke-free Environments Act, a significant step in tobacco control. The act aimed to protect individuals from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke by prohibiting smoking in indoor workplaces, public transport, and specific public areas, while bringing about the end of tobacco advertising and sponsorship.
Helen Clark served as the Minister of Health in New Zealand back then, and the Smokefree Environments Bill was her baby. Her legislation was bitterly opposed by not just the tobacco industry, but also by several sports associations, such as football, triathlon, and softball, which were highly dependent on the tobacco industry for funding.
The Minister of Health had the support of the Coalition against Tobacco Advertising and Sponsorship, which included organisations like the Cancer Society, the NZ Medical Association, ASH, and AFTFS.
Deirdre Kent headed ASH, and Athletes for Tobacco-Free Sport (AFTFS) was founded and run by Gary Moller (the author of this article — of course!)
This act aimed to bring about a ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, create smokefree environments, and protect the public from the hazards of secondhand smoke. It also created the Health Sponsorship Council, headed by Ian Potter (More about the Council later). The longterm aim, of course, was the eventual end to smoking in New Zealand.
Organisations such as Sports People for Freedom for Sport, fronted by John Adshead, and New Zealanders for the Right to Decide, fronted by Andy Hayden led the powerful and generously-funded pro-tobacco sports lobby. Both men were influential sporting legends. They had Helen Clarke close to defeat and facing being forced to resign as Minister of Health.
Winning the sports lobby battle!
My sister, Lorraine, a member of the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games, was a late withdrawal from her event due to injury. Putting her presence within the Games Village to good use, Lorraine promoted a petition supporting an end to tobacco's role in sport. Almost the entire NZ team, including officials and support crew, such as the medical team, signed the petition. It was a coup.
After the Games were over, we had a medal ceremony on the steps of Parliament where the Kiwi gold medallists gave Helen Clarke their gold medals for a day. The intention of the petition and the medal ceremony was to counter the claims of Hayden and Adshead that they represented NZ sport. They clearly didn't and we produced the undeniable optics. But despite these powerful successes and us having the moral high ground, MPs weren't going to budge, and for good reason.
While it could never be proven, it was said that many MPs had made a deal with the tobacco industry. It's understood the deal went something like this: by voting against the Smokefree Envitonments Bill, the electorate office of the MP would later receive a substantial donation, but after the next election, and well after the vote on the Bill. For us, promoting the Bill, this appeared to be an insurmountable hurdle. However, things were about to change — dramatically!
Taking a beating and loving it!
As one MP after another defected, Helen Clarke lost the numbers to pass her legislation. Things changed for the better when ASH and AFTFS organised a protest at a Rothmans sponsored triathlon in South Auckland.
Our small demonstration included hundreds of white crosses and a person (Sarah from the Auckland Cancer Society), dressed in a skeleton, handed out the sponsor's products — cigarettes — to the athletes as they ran through the transition area. The triathlon's organiser had anticipated our presence and hired some "heavies" to keep us out of the way, but, as tensions rose, things got out of hand and the heavies violently attacked we, the protestors. It was all captured by the TV cameras and became the lead item on the six-o'clock evening news, and later referred to repeatedly when the legislation was being debated in Parliament!
We won, because no MP could be associated with a cause that exercised violence against peaceful protestors. Helen Clarke's legislation was passed into law shortly thereafter.
Promoting grassroots community health!
In addition to our efforts in promoting tobacco-free lifestyles among athletes, including highlighting the hypocrisy of sports' hard-line drugs-free stance, the Coalition, including Athletes for Tobacco-Free Sport (AFTFS) negotiated a significant deal with the Minister of Health in return for putting our weight behind the Smoke-free Environments Act.
As part of our support for the smokefree legislation, the Coalition against Tobacco Advertising and Sponsorship, and AFTFS advocated for the allocation of a buy-out fund to help sports in compensating for the loss of tobacco industry funding. This buy-out fund was intended to address the financial impact on sports organisations that relied on tobacco industry sponsorship. We proposed the creation of a health sponsorship foundation, modelled on the Victoria Health, Australia model. We went so far as to bring Victoria Health's CEO, Rhonda Galbally, to New Zealand to explain how it worked in Victoria, and how the idea of a health sponsorship fund might work here.
The government agreed to this proposal, and upon passing the Smoke-free Environments Act, the Health Sponsorship was established with a multi-million-dollar fund. This fund aimed to support various health-related initiatives, including a wide range of "Smokefree" programmes. These programmes included talent quests and concerts specifically designed for young people, promoting smokefree lifestyles and raising awareness about the dangers of smoking.
Helping to pass this legislation and establish the Health Sponsorship Council is something I fondly remember with pride and satisfaction.
Big Tobacco pivoted!
In response to increasing restrictions on smoking, the tobacco industry, often called "Big Tobacco," has indeed pivoted to new technologies, particularly vaping, to maintain their market presence and adapt to changing consumer preferences. This shift has allowed them to continue profiting from nicotine addiction while circumventing some of the regulations imposed on traditional tobacco products.
Vaping, or using electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), involves inhaling and exhaling aerosol produced by heating a liquid containing nicotine, flavourings, and other chemicals. The tobacco industry recognised the potential of this emerging market and began investing in and acquiring e-cigarette companies. By doing so, they gained a foothold in the vaping industry and expanded their product offerings beyond traditional cigarettes.
One of the tactics employed by Big Tobacco to protect their interests in the vaping market is lobbying. They have actively engaged in lobbying efforts to limit or delay legislative measures that seek to regulate or restrict vaping. This includes advocating for less stringent regulations on e-cigarettes, arguing that they are a less harmful alternative to traditional smoking and can aid in smoking cessation, and generally doing all they can to obfuscate the issues.
By lobbying against strict regulations, Big Tobacco aims to maintain a favourable regulatory environment for their vaping products. They often argue that excessive regulations would stifle innovation, limit consumer choice, and hinder the potential public health benefits of e-cigarettes as smoking cessation tools. However, critics argue that these arguments are often used as a smokescreen to protect their profits and maintain a new avenue for nicotine addiction.
It's important to note that the long-term health effects of vaping are still being studied, and there's ongoing debate among health experts regarding its safety and efficacy as a smoking cessation tool. However, the tobacco industry's pivot to vaping and their lobbying efforts to influence regulations demonstrate their adaptability and determination to continue profiting from nicotine addiction, even in the face of increasing restrictions on smoking. It worked.
Note that The Health Sponsorship Council closed on June 30th, 2012, a decision I didn't agree with.
Vaping: the new smoking
In recent years, the rise of vaping has sparked concerns about its impact on efforts to reduce smoking rates and create smoke-free environments. Despite significant progress made through initiatives like the Smoke-Free Environments Act and supporting programmes, such as the Health Sponsorship Council, there's growing worry that much of what was achieved to stamp out smoking is now lost.
Vaping has emerged as a popular alternative to traditional smoking, especially among young people, with around 20 percent of all teenagers vaping daily. However, the assertion that "Vaping is the new smoking" raises concerns because while it is often marketed as a less harmful option, it still involves the inhalation of nicotine, leading to addiction. This shift has led to a new generation with growing rates of addiction to vape-delivered nicotine.
The rise of vaping undermines progress made in creating smoke-free environments through legislation and awareness campaigns. The Smoke Free Environments Bill and programmes like the Health Sponsorship Council were designed to reduce smoking rates and protect individuals from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, and reduce the burden the habit placed on the health system. However, with the introduction of vaping, a new avenue for nicotine consumption has emerged, leading to exploiting a new generation addicted to nicotine.
Nicotine addiction can have various negative effects on health:
Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases: Nicotine constricts blood vessels, raises blood pressure, and increases heart rate, which can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions.
Respiratory issues: Nicotine can harm the lungs and lead to respiratory problems such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and worsened asthma symptoms.
Increased risk of cancer: Nicotine itself isn't a carcinogen, but it can promote the growth of existing cancer cells. Smoking, which delivers nicotine along with numerous harmful chemicals, is a major cause of various types of cancer, including lung, throat, mouth, and esophageal cancer.
Reduced lung function: Nicotine can impair lung function and decrease lung capacity, leading to shortness of breath and decreased physical performance.
Reproductive and fertility issues: Nicotine can affect reproductive health, including reduced fertility in both men and women. It can also increase the risk of complications during pregnancy, such as premature birth, low birth weight, and developmental issues in the baby.
Addiction and withdrawal symptoms: Nicotine is highly addictive, and quitting can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and intense cravings.
Fatigue: What lifts a person up, will inevitably drop them down hard. This is the process of addiction. The initial doses of nicotine make the person feel high, but then the lows set in. Further and more frequent doses of nicotine are required for the person just to feel alive, let alone normal!
For me, what's been lost is very sad and may be irretrievable due to the snail-like pace of the legislators and their health officials to respond. We're producing a generation of tired, nervous wrecks who are spending all their money on a product we can all do without. Additionally, nicotine addiction increases the burden on an already overwhelmed health system.
Do we really want this for a country that was once called Godzone?
The increasing prevalence of vaping is presenting fresh obstacles in the fight against smoking. Even with attempts to lessen smoking rates and create smoke-free areas, vaping, particularly among the youth, is thwarting the advancements made in safeguarding public health.
It's inexplicable why authorities didn't take proactive action, thus weakening public health measures and condemning a generation to lives tormented by addiction. Some experts think nicotine is more addictive than heroin. Why we allow products like vaping to be marketed to young people is beyond comprehension.
The dream of a future where smoking is a distant memory may be dashed as more and more young people become addicted to nicotine through vaping, currently around 20 percent and climbing.
Key points to remember:
Vaping is becoming increasingly popular, especially among young people.
Nicotine is extremely addictive, with a long list of detrimental side effects.
The rise of vaping is undermining smoke-free environments and a burden on our health system.
It's crucial to stay informed and adapt strategies to effectively combat nicotine addiction, and not be influenced by big business interests for profit.
Prioritising public health is essential in creating a future free from smoking and vaping.