Gone in a puff: Hamilton City Council prohibits vaping in public areas

Hamilton City councillor Ewan Wilson: “There is a considerable amount of evidence that there is considerable harm [from vaping].”

Tom Lee/Stuff

Hamilton City councillor Ewan Wilson: “There is a considerable amount of evidence that there is considerable harm [from vaping].”

Vaping will now join smoking as a prohibited activity in public spaces in Hamilton.

However, concerns remain over how united the Hamilton City Council and the Waikato District Health Board are in ridding the city of what is increasingly being seen as a future threat to the wellbeing of the city’s younger generations in particular.

The council’s community committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to add vaping to smoking as a non-permitted activity in council-owned and operated parks, playgrounds and buildings including the Hamilton Transport Centre, bus stops and at all council-operated events.

The move has already been met with disapproval from pro-vape lobbyists – principally Jonathan Devery, the owner of Vapo and Alt New Zealand, the largest Kiwi-owned vape company in the country, who has decried it as a backwards step to making the country “smoke-free”.

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At Tuesday’s committee meeting councillor Ewan Wilson lamented the lack respiratory specialists in attendance to speak about the threat to health posed by vaping.

Rather, he had Googled the information himself, his investigations revealing a study from the University of North Carolina that found there were toxins and chemicals in e-cigarettes that could cause lung and cardiovascular disease.

The US Surgeon General had also issued warnings about particulates such as benzene, which is found in car exhaust; and heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead in secondhand vape smoke.

“There is a considerable amount of evidence that there is considerable harm,” Wilson said.

One health expert who was at hand was Waikato District Health Board public health physician Nina Scott.

“The research is very new,” she said. “Intuitively, we know it’s a really dumb idea to inhale this stuff into your lungs.”

Also at the meeting via audio-visual link was Cancer Society health promoter Charlie Poihipi, who said he had canvassed Hamilton high school principals who were having issues with students getting hooked on the nicotine content in vapes.

“You now have a generation of young people that have never smoked getting addicted to vaping.

“The vaping increase has caused a slight increase in smoking as well. Originally the argument was that it was going to bring smoking rates down, but unfortunately it’s gone up.”

Meanwhile, the council declined to grant a request from the DHB to make the streets surrounding the Waikato Hospital campus and the Waiora building in the central city smoke- and vape-free areas.

Before it accedes to this, the council wants the DHB to actively consider a recommendation by Coroner Wallace Bain in December 2018 for “provision being made for at-risk patients to smoke in a safe environment”.

That recommendation was part of a salvo of instructions issued to the DHB by Bain following his inquest into the death by suicide of Hamilton man Nicky Stevens – the son of city councillor and former health board member Dave Macpherson – while he was in the care of the mental health unit at Waikato Hospital.

The DHB had not followed that instruction and was instead taking a tougher line discouraging smoking for patients – including mental heath patients – and others at the hospital.

“Smoking is a risk to mental health,” Scott told the committee. “If you support [depressed people] to stop smoking, the effect on their depression is greater than giving them anti-depressants.

“In the old days you used to say ‘Don’t even try to help them to stop smoking because they need it’ – and the evidence has totally swung in the opposite direction.”

Following the committee decision, Devery quickly issued a statement denouncing it.

“Hamilton City councillors have also completely overlooked the fact that vaping is the most effective smoking cessation tool in New Zealand’s history, hence why our smoking rates are at record low levels.”

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