A breath of fresh air for Indigenous smokers
Posted on December 13, 2018
A leading Maori Public Health organisation has provided a breath of fresh air in the tobacco harm reduction debate with a sensible, evidence-based and pragmatic statement on vaping.
Based on their community experience and the research evidence, Hapai Te Haoura strongly endorses vaping for Indigenous communities. The arguments are just as relevant for Australian Indigenous people whose smoking rates are 3 times those of the general population.
The key messages
Here are the key points made by Hapai Te Haoura. The full statement is posted below.
- Youth uptake of vaping is minimal and is more prevalent among those who already smoke
- There may be a significant health benefit in young people using vapes if this is an alternative to smoking or other harmful behaviour
- International research indicates vaping is correlated with a decline in youth smoking
- Tobacco taxes are regressive and apply extra burden on Indigenous families
- Regulations must ensure that vapour products are as safe as possible without compromising their appeal as alternatives to smoking
- It is unethical to restrict their access to less harmful options while tobacco is on every corner and petrol station in their community
- We must contextualise vaping harm in the context of smoking
There is high level of interest in vaping in Māori populations. 45.8 percent of young Māori had ever tried vaping in 2016, compared with 22.2 percent of non-Māori.
December 12, 2018
Hāpai Te Hauora hold the national contract for tobacco control, and after having listened to a recent interview on RNZ regarding rangatahi uptake of vaping, we would like to offer our perspective on this issue, which is informed by both evidence and first hand community experience engaging with Māori and Pasifika whanau (family) who are disproportionately burdened by tobacco addiction.
– Hāpai believe in minimising non-smokers’ (particularly children and young adults) uptake of vape use, and smoking of tobacco should be monitored closely. We must contextualise vaping harm in the context of smoking. A common estimate used is that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking, and while estimations of vaping risks may change based on emerging evidence, we must not let this side track us from the core issue in that vaping is a less harmful alternative for those who smoke.
– Our community work mirrors the statistics provided by ASH in that youth uptake of vaping is minimal and more prevalent amongst rangatahi who smoke tobacco. We believe the aim should not be to prevent all young people from vaping. There may be a significant health benefit in young people using vapes if this is an alternative to smoking or other harmful behaviour.
– There is minimal evidence to suggest vaping is not a gateway drug for smoking, as shown by the ASH Year 10 survey. Other recent international research in fact indicates vaping is correlated with a decline in youth smoking.
Benefits of vaping for whānau Māori
– Currently more Māori and Pasifika smoke than other ethnic groups, and there is a real risk that the regressive nature of tobacco excise tax increases, although needed, do apply extra burden on Māori and Pasifika families. The provision of emerging innovative harm minimisation tools such as vapes could provide new and effective support for those most in need.
Regulations on vaping
– While we support the move for improved regulations, we believe that rather than restricting access on flavours deemed “youth adjacent” e.g. snake venom, the advertising on these products should be amended so that they are less appealing for rangatahi. Our community mahi tells us that appealing flavours like fruit and cream- based, are an incentive for whānau to switch from smoking. Regulations must ensure that vapes and vapour products are as safe as possible without compromising their appeal as alternatives to smoking
– If we are going to restrict access of vaping for rangatahi, it cannot be done without increasing barriers to tobacco. Rangatahi who smoke/ vape are more likely to live in low income communities of which tobacco is 4x more available. It is unethical to restrict their access to less harmful options while tobacco is on every corner and petrol station in their community. It calls into question our morals as a country as to how much we want our tamariki to live thriving and healthy lives.
As one kuia said “if I had to choose between my motu smoking or vaping, I would choose vaping”. This position is one we have heard across the motu from whānau who have looked into vaping and see its relative benefits to tobacco.
We welcome the opportunity to talk further with you on this issue and are contactable as per our details below.
Posted by Colin Mendelsohn, firstname.lastname@example.org