While nanny state McCarthyists of public health rule the roost in Australian harm reduction, thank heavens our Kiwi cousins across the Dutch have their heads sensibly screwed on.
This week, >the New Zealand government announced it will be legislating to make nicotine-containing vaping devices legally available to New Zealand’s half a million smokers. Furthermore, these devices will be sold as retail products to over 18s in direct competition with cigarettes, not as prescription-only, highly-restricted therapeutic products.
As far as I’m aware, this is the first time a Western jurisdiction has moved to make illegal nicotine-containing devices legal, as opposed to regulating them from a starting point of legality. That in itself is a huge breach in the Atlantic Wall of the repressive tobacco-control dictatorship.
This is good and sound policy addressing significant health and social pressures. Like Australia, New Zealand has particular problems with smoking rates in disadvantaged communities. While the general smoking rate is around 15 per cent of the population, in the Maori community it is more than double that. The Key government is embracing nicotine-containing e-cigarettes as part of its aspirational strategy to make New Zealand smoke-free by 2025. What’s more, the decision has been welcomed across the New Zealand political spectrum, including by the Labour opposition. That in itself indicates the government’s intention to have the legislation in place by year’s end will happen.
It is also accepting that thousands of law-abiding New Zealand vapers are breaking the existing law by importing their own nicotine-containing vaping liquids for their personal use. The Internet has made the legal ban of these substances all but unenforceable, and the government sensibly recognises that sensible regulation is better than allowing inferior-quality vaping devices and liquids to sneak through the back door.
Most importantly, however, Kiwi politicians, bureaucrats and public health advisers are accepting that while scientific evidence is still accumulating, vaping is far safer than smoking, and the more smokers turn to vaping the less they are at risk of the death, illness and permanent damage that thousands of chemicals in cigarette smoke – other than nicotine – cause. By effectively declaring tobacco smoke, not nicotine, as the real enemy, the Key government recognises denying people convenient access to these devices keeps them exposed to life-threatening ciggies to get their nicotine fix.
Unlike Australia, where public health zealots like anti-tobacco talking head Simon Chapman have our risk-averse politicians by the short and curlies – just witness the recent craven capitulation by Victoria’s Liberal opposition to the Andrews government’s legislation aimed at suppressing vaping in that state, unquestioningly accepting the views anti-vaping zealotry of Quit Victoria and the Cancer Council as absolute gospel – New Zealand politicians are bringing common sense and lighter-touch regulation to the table. Instead of genuflecting at the altar of the high priests of the nanny state, they are willing to give disruptive innovation a go to show vaping the benefit of the doubt, instead of strangling it in its infancy as our governments are.
The New Zealand government has started consultations on the final shape of its legislation. Unlike the secret Chapman-led whitewash policy review exercise in Australia (which I exposed here on Catallaxy), the Kiwi consultations are open to everyone. A consultation paper has been released outlining the current proposals: as my IEA colleague Christopher Snowdon has noted, it’s not (yet) as liberal as it could be, but is very much a huge step in the right direction. I’m planning to make a submission: I’m interested in seeing whether my ever-tweeting adversary Professor Chapman does likewise.
Australian politicians should sit up and take enthusiastic notice of the enlightened thinking of their Kiwi cousins, not just on this but on their more enlightened approaches to alcohol and other substance harm reduction. The lesson from New Zealand is defying the diktats of self-referential nanny statist bureaucrats and public health zealots can actually be popular. Memo to Victorian Liberals Matthew Guy and Mary Wooldridge, who can still rein in the excesses of the Andrews Bill before it passes: instead of fearing the wrath of self-righteous public health panjandrums, you actually can politely say “up yours” to them in the interests of good policy and sensible regulation.
Meanwhile, the likes of Professor Chapman are fuming, and watching their confusion is a very enjoyable side effect of New Zealand’s latest example of government by common sense.
Terry Barnes is a policy consultant, was a senior policy adviser to federal health ministers Michael Wooldridge and Tony Abbott, and is a part-time Australian fellow of the UK’s Institute of Economic Affairs
As I was finishing this article, the Therapeutic Goods Administration announced (link) it will be initiating a public consultation on an application to permit the use of nicotine in vaping devices as well as combustible cigarettes. Will Kiwi-style common sense prevail here too, or will the usual public health Luddites make sure that no further holes are made in their Atlantic Wall? Watch this space…