Australian supplier Vape Store says the cannabis industry should look across the Tasman to understand how vaping has become a health solution for the New Zealand government.

As part of its Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan, the New Zealand ministry of health has introduced legislation banning children aged 14 and under from ever legally buying tobacco products.

Associate minister of health Dr Ayesha Verrall said: “We want to make sure young people never start smoking, so we will make it an offence to sell or supply smoked tobacco products to new cohorts of youth.”

And the ministry has made vaping a key part of its plan.

NZ associate minister of health Dr Ayesha Verrall

Its website states: “The potential of vaping products to help improve public health depends on the extent to which they can act as a route out of smoking for New Zealand’s 550,000 daily smokers, without providing a route into smoking for children and non-smokers.”

The ministry continues: “Expert opinion is that vaping products are much less harmful than smoking tobacco, but not completely harmless.

And while acknowledging that toxicants have been found in vapour, it says these are generally “at levels much lower than can be found in cigarette smoke or at levels that are unlikely to cause harm”.

It concludes: “Smokers switching to vaping products are highly likely to reduce the risks to their health and those around them.

“When used as intended, vaping products pose no risk of nicotine poisoning to users, but vaping liquids should be in child-resistant packaging.”

The italics are ours, and we’ll come back to those later.

For now, though, think about the cannabis industry and the challenges it faces from a lobbying perspective.

Who are the politicians trying to make a difference at state and federal level in Australia? There’s former Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale, now chair of the Healthcare Practitioner/Patient Advisory Council.

Reason party leader Fiona Patten is fighting for meaningful drug law reform in Victoria, while NSW Greens MP Cate Faermann has challenged that state’s arbitrary drug-driving laws.

In South Australia, Greens MLC Tammy Franks has tabled a bill to legalise recreational cannabis, while in WA Sophia Moermond and Dr Brian Walker have even been elected to parliament.

The No campaign used emotive images to swing votes in New Zealand’s referendum on recreational cannabis.

But apart from their willingness to lobby other politicians on behalf of their constituents and the industry, what else do they have in common? Answer: none of them are actually in power.

The difference with New Zealand is stark. Vaping is part of a solution put forward by the government of the day. The cannabis industry supporters named above can nudge and cajole, but if they don’t have the votes in parliament their efforts are doomed to well-meaning failure.

So let’s get back to those italics.

without providing a route into smoking for children and non-smokers.

Any proposals put forward by the cannabis lobby must, first and foremost, be seen to protect children. Just look at all that emotive campaigning from the No campaign in NZ’s 2020 referendum on recreational cannabis.

We all remember “Vote nope to dope” and those images of cannabis leaves on a sweet shop, with children playing happily outside.

Expert opinion.

Politicians don’t generally get into positions of power because they are experts in a particular field. The treasurer isn’t necessarily an economist and the health minister probably isn’t a doctor. They rely on experts to tell them if a policy makes sense or not, so it’s a good idea to present as much evidence as possible from people who know more than most.

Whether it’s safety, efficacy, the health or economic benefits, the more experts telling the cannabis story the better.

Levels that are unlikely to cause harm.

Think about this in the context of drug-driving laws. The Lambert Initiative has done some great work demonstrating that not only does CBD not impact a driver’s ability, even those consuming THC could be safe to get behind the wheel in a matter of hours.

No-one is saying it’s okay to drive while stoned. But the government needs to be convinced that degrees matter, or they will retain the current one-size-fits-all approach.

Vaping liquids should be in child-resistant packaging.

“In New Zealand… vaping is part of a solution put forward by the government of the day.”

And so it’s back to the kids. The vaping industry, far from being seen as a threat to children’s health in New Zealand, has become part of the solution.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of public opinion. Politicians rarely make decisions they know will be unpopular. If they think a more enlightened approach to cannabis is a vote winner, they’re far more likely to support legislation that leans in that direction.

When it comes to medicinal cannabis, public perception plays a large role in terms of government support or condemnation.

The stigma commonly associated with cannabis needs to be challenged via a legitimate marketing campaign educating the public as to the vast benefits of medicinal cannabis in many people’s lives.

For the industry to become mainstream, there also needs to be transparency and a willingness to self-regulate. Proper packaging and a uniform standard of ingredient listing is a good start.

The goal is to make medicinal cannabis a mainstream industry, one where duties and taxes are paid just as they are with other products.

Now that’s a language all politicians understand.

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