JACOB VILLEGAS WRITES -New Zealand health officials are calling for vapes in New Zealand to be sold solely at pharmacies and/or to require a prescription for them, as a result of the rising number of teens picking up the unhealthy habit.

This comes after New Zealand introduced the world’s first tobacco law preventing those age 14 and under from legally purchasing cigarettes, as of December 13, 2022. On average, 5000 people in New Zealand die every year due to smoking. The country has made its goal to be smoke-free by the year 2025.

New Zealand has already seen results, with a roughly 8.3% drop in daily smokers, but the daily vape user count has risen by 6.2% in the past year. This is concerning, because long-term effects of vaping are still somewhat unknown. Current studies have shown that those who vape are at an increased risk of blood clots as well as respiratory illnesses. It will take at least 10 years or more to see how daily users’ bodies have been damaged by inhaling the addictive substance via vape.

Still, the New Zealand government, based on its implementation of the tobacco law, may choose to restrict the use of vapes. As of now, the government is considering limiting sales to certain areas, as well as lowering the nicotine levels in vapes and changing the packaging – possibly to make it less appealing to child consumers.

Australia faced similar challenges and was forced to limit the sales of vapes. There, it is illegal to use or own e-cigarettes containing nicotine without a doctor’s prescription. Despite this, suppliers have simply removed the nicotine label as a means of escaping the restriction, which could lead to the creation of a black market.

One country in Southeast Asia has already taken it a step further and banned the use of e-cigarettes entirely: Thailand. The ban has been in effect since 2014 and applies to both Thais as well as foreigners. The reasoning for this ban extends beyond health concerns, to the fear that vaping provides a gateway to the more harmful practice of smoking “regular” cigarettes. Thai citizens who choose to break this law could be fined and face jail time. Not surprisingly, the number of nicotine smokers in the country has dramatically decreased— during 2000-2015, it dropped from 48% to 40%— and now has lowered to about 20%. Thankfully, this country has shown how an immediate ban on e-cigarettes will not increase the number of smokers; and the numbers are projected to be even lower in the next few years.

Australia and Thailand, then, have shown, based on the data collected so far, the smoking habit may become a thing of the past.

Even so, it would seem that no government action can keep suppliers and users entirely apart. Further research and revisions to the laws is necessary; the main focus should be on containment rather than restriction. A ban just might encourage the tobacco industry to find new innovations and to rebrand its products, as was done with e-cigarettes. Maybe as the laws evolve, so will the industries that they seek to regulate. The best path forward: To restrict usage while educating the masses about the dangerous toxins that smoking releases into their bodies.

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