The government believe vaping products “have the potential to make a contribution to the Smokefree 2025 goal and could disrupt the significant inequities that are present.” However, there appears to be no current plan to allocate funding for whānau to use vapes. Health professionals have voiced their concerns on this perceived inaction because it adds to increasing inequities inherent in our tobacco tax structure whereby only 3% of the $2 billion annual tax take from tobacco sales are reinvested into public campaigns and support for people to quit smoking.
We are living in a time where the cost of smoking is framed in relation to its $300- $350 million cost to the government each year. What we haven’t done well is acknowledge the cost to wāhine and Māori who are losing almost 2,000 whānau members a year to tobacco-related harm. It’s no surprise they aren’t filled with enthusiasm for the prospect of sitting around debating the 5% risk of vaping.
Across the country, many wāhine know that tobacco products will increase in cost, again, after January 1st. Many are looking at vaping as a tool to quit, but often they are navigating barriers around quality information and support. We chatted to wāhine Māori and māmā hapū who smoke about the thoughts and questions they have on vaping. To answer their questions, we invited Dr Hayden McRobbie and Vape2Save facilitator, Mel Morris, to respond.
“I want to know the risks of vaping and what it will do to me and to my baby”
Hayden: There are a number of substances in tobacco smoke that cause harm in pregnancy. Carbon monoxide, for example, which is a poison gas that decreases oxygen carrying capacity. This is not present in vapour. We don’t fully understand the risks of vaping to mothers and their babies. If you don’t smoke, you should not vape. However, we do know that vaping is likely to be much less harmful to both mothers and babies’ health than smoking is.
Ideally women should have smoke-free and vape-free pregnancies. Stop smoking services can provide a range of options to help women quit. However, if vaping is what helps you quit smoking then do that. Ideally, aim to stop vaping as soon as you feel strong that you can remain smokefree.
Mel: “It’s great that women are wanting to learn about the harms and benefits of vaping. When I started vaping, I less interested in the health risks of vaping- when you’re at that point where your knee deep in the addiction, asking those questions weren’t front of mind for me. I wanted to just listen- and I was lucky that I was supported by a vaping group who knew what they were talking about. There were people in that group that supported me that were doing it for the love of helping people- they weren’t getting paid, and that was really cool.”
“My work isn’t supportive of vaping, and they don’t let us do it around the premises, only in the smoker’s area. If vaping is better than smoking, how come I’m still made to feel like a smoker, and what can we do about that? It’s making it harder to quit”
Hayden: Workplaces should support their employees who smoke to quit. This not only has benefits for employee health, but its also ‘good for business’. Many smokers are finding that swicthing to vaping is a good way to quit smoking. Workplace rules should make it easier for smokers to vape than continue to smoke. For example, there could be more areas where vaping is allowed, than where smoking is allowed. Exposure to others smoking can make quitting much harder and so ex-smokers who are now vaping should not be put in situations that may increase the risk of returning to smoking.
Mel: Where I worked part time, at Sisters of Mercy, they’d let us vape on site but not smoke- you’d have to walk out of the premises. It was good because they supported it and they weren’t corrupted by junk science, they went on “well, if this is better- lets support it”, and I felt better because I used to feel really conscious and I’d be worried they could smell cigarettes on me.
“Who should I be looking to for information on vaping? I don’t have time to read every article but I went to one whanau member who said one thing, and then saw something else on the news about popcorn lung”
Hayden: There are a number of ‘scare-stories’ circulating in our communities, such as vaping can cause ‘popcorn lung’. The concern about ‘popcorn lung’ came about because the chemical that produces a buttery flavour (diacetyl) was used, in the early days (it’s not used anymore), in some e-liquids. At very high levels of exposure it can seriously affect your lungs. This was found to be the case among some workers in a popcorn factory; thus the term ‘popcorn lung’. However, the levels that were used in vaping products were relatively low and less than found in cigarette smoke. The key message from the Ministry of Health is that vaping is much less harmful than smoking. This does not mean that vaping is safe, and people who don’t smoke should not start vaping.
Mel: I don’t believe anything on Facebook and think we need to be skeptical of what’s in the media- is it a report on evidence-based practice, or is something to get clicks? I encountered a few barriers in vaping and I see this now in supporting other people in coming off cigarettes. Women need support in learning how to use the device- getting it off a mate or uneducated dairy owner won’t be enough. You need a lot of patience when you are used to picking up a cigarette and good information on what kind of juice to buy, how much nicotine, and what to do with burnt coils.
“When I started I wasn’t getting much of a hit, and felt like I was vaping heaps which made me worried I was doing more harm than good from quitting smoking. How do I deal with that?”
Hayden: People who smoke do so for a whole variety of reasons. However, the main reason is that they are hooked on nicotine, and this is what they miss when they quit. Vaping products generally contain nicotine, but if the level in your e-liquid is too low you may end up vaping more. If you find that you are using a lot of e-liquid seek some advice from a vape shop specialist. It may be that you need a higher nicotine level in your e-liquid, or even a different device.
Mel: “Before vaping, I tried everything NRT (nicotine replacement therapy), gum, lozenges, and none worked for me because I didn’t get the oral fix. I don’t like chewing things as it looks yuck. I definitely vaped more when I started but that’s because I didn’t get the right device, and I knew not to worry because I’d end up vaping less over time which I definitely have. I need to have my vape and know its there- when I’ve got it, I don’t actually need it, but I just need to know it’s there.”
“What do I say to someone who says I’m harming my baby? It has to be better than smoking, doesn’t it?”
Hayden: “There are large risks of smoking during pregnancy. Although we don’t fully understand the harms of vaping during pregnancy, vaping is likely to be much less harmful than smoking. Whilst it is better to completely smoke-free and vape-free, if vaping has helped you become smokefree that is better than smoking.”
Mel: “As a mum, my kids are really happy for me and can see what being smoke free has done for me. My daughter doesn’t smoke, neither do- they tried it as kids but because I made the changes that influenced them. Vaping doesn’t give you that stress like cigarettes do. Especially financials- I see whānau fighting about the financials, which I don’t have to worry about anymore.”