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‘A bit meh’: concern at message sent through DHB statement on vaping

A health statement in Gisborne that backs vaping as a means to quit smoking has been called out for not first denouncing the practice.

An advisory committee to Hauora Tairawhiti district health board has called the draft statement “a bit meh” and is concerned it will send a message of approval about vaping, especially to young people who do not already smoke.

Hauora Tairawhiti staff defended the statement, saying it aligned with the Ministry of Health's stance of vaping as a “harm reduction strategy” and was a “rehash” of a statement used by other DHBs.

It comes after a vape shop near three Gisborne schools was fitted out but shut down before it opened following community outcry.

Members of the community including Mayor Rehette Stoltz, and students themselves expressed concern about the uptake of vaping among students.

The draft position statement came before Hauora Tairawhiti's Hiwa i Te Rangi advisory committee on Tuesday.

“Although we do not know the long-term health effects of vaping, using a vape can help smokers quit as it is much less harmful than smoking cigarettes,” the first line of a draft statement said.

Committee member and Gisborne district councillor Andy Cranston said he was “very frustrated” by the statement, pointing to a line that said “nicotine is a relatively harmless drug for people who smoke”.

Mr Cranston referred to a John Hopkins Medicine article that said nicotine was a toxic and addictive substance.

This article also said e-cigarettes were “potentially dangerous” with emerging data suggesting links to chronic lung disease and asthma.

“There are so many unknowns about vaping and to kind of have an accepting position on it I don't agree with,” Cranston said.

“This position statement is not strong enough for me. I think it should have some component of ‘hey, there's risk there' and put that risk in front of people.”

The statement did say “vaping is not harmless but it is much less harmful than smoking”.

On the second page, it said “if you don't smoke, don't vape”.

Hauora Tairawhiti chief executive Jim Green said it was part of a “harm reduction strategy” for current smokers to get nicotine in a “more safe fashion”.

“It would be preferable that nobody smoked or vaped, or smoked marijuana,” Mr Green said.

But he said that was not the reality.

“It is not about young people starting vaping . . . it's around a strategy purely to enable people to make a transition off smoking cigarettes on to vaping and then to stopping, and there is evidence that that transition does occur.”

Committee member Te Aturangi Nepia-Clamp said it was “just switching one bad thing for another”.

“What we do know is that fresh air is good for us. Anything other than fresh air has an effect.”

Committee member and district councillor Sandra Faulkner said it was “a bit meh”.

Board chair Kim Ngarimu supported the views of the other members and asked that it come back to the table.

It is illegal to sell nicotine vaping products to people under 18, but research by Te Hiringa Hauora/Health Promotion Agency into teen vaping showed the proportion of students who had tried e-cigarettes was on the rise.

A 2018 survey of 14 and 15-year-olds showed 38 percent of students had tried vaping — up from 29 percent two years before.

Four “specialist” vape shops operate in Gisborne.

Vaping or e-cigarettes are electrical devices which heat a solution that produces a vapour that the user inhales or “vapes”. E-liquids usually contain nicotine, propylene glycol and or glycerol, along with flavours, to create an aerosol that people breathe in.

The Ministry of Health in 2017 backed vaping and e-cigarettes as a way to help the country reach its smokefree goal by 2025.