Seymour and Ardern on e-cigarettes

David Seymour writes:

However, I do have a modest proposal that could relieve the poorest New Zealanders of this damaging tax (the poorest are 3.71 times more likely to smoke than the richest).

It is legal to buy electronic cigarettes in New Zealand. These devices use battery power to warm flavoured liquids into a vapour, giving the impression of smoking.  It is illegal to buy liquids that contain nicotine though, so they can’t usurp an addiction to real cigarettes.

In the internet age, the hyper-connected middle class simply imports nicotine-based fluids online.  If Customs can’t work out whether or not to charge GST on those jeans you just ordered from LA, they have no chance of working out what’s in the liquid you mail-ordered.

We should simply legalise the purchase of nicotine e-cigarettes, by prescription, tax-free.  The government already subsidises nicotine patches and the drug Champix, among other smoking cessation policies.  In total it spends around $75 million a year on anti-smoking measures.  Legalising nicotine e-cigarettes for those similarly diagnosed would provide an alternative for quitting.  The main advantage is that unlike standard medical substitutes it provides a substitute not only for the substance but for the habit.

Making e-cigarettes available by prescription is the least we can do. I’d actually make them available on the same terms as normal cigarettes. Why would you make the less harmful product harder to access?

Jacinda Ardern responded:

There is a trend towards electronic cigarettes, and the evidence certainly suggests they are exponentially less harmful than smoking tobacco, but we are still replacing one addiction with another.

Good to see Jacinda recognise the evidence that they are massively less harmful. It isn’t replacing an addication with another as substiution a product.

The addiction is to nicotine. But it is the tar that kills you. So if someone is addicted to nicotine, then the nicotine product without tar is a way way better option that the one with tar.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for these products (noting with caution that the big tobacco companies have started investing in them) and I agree that making them more accessible has some real benefits.

Who cares who invests in them? Is the aim of public policy to harm particular companies or to improve public health?

Again good to see Jacinda recognise the benefits.

But so too would properly resourcing cessation programmes.

It’s not either or. Some people respond to cessation programmes, but not everyone.

So I propose an alternate idea – why don’t we use the considerable tax take on cigarettes (which we spend only a portion of on smokers) to back cessation programmes and products that have a proven track record, and help people to quit for good.

Umm tobacco excise tax and GST on tobacco brings in $1.3 billion a year. Is Jacinda saying all of that should be spent on cessation programmes? Currently $57 milion a year is spent on smoking cessation programmes. Is Jacinda really saying we should increase that at least ten fold?

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