Rushing to deal with new vaping legislation during an unprecedented economic lockdown is not just folly, it is anti-democratic, according to a public submission by the New Zealand Initiative.
While most businesses and public services are shut down as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government has retained its deadline for public submissions about its tabled Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendments Bill, due today.
The Initiative’s submission, written by Dr Eric Crampton, outlines numerous flaws in the current regulations for vaping and other reduced-harm alternatives while suggesting policy improvements.
But the non-partisan think tank’s heaviest criticism is on the Government’s choice to continue with the bill during a sensitive time when few people for whom the new vaping regulations will directly affect are free to submit their own opinions.
“It is difficult enough to engage disadvantaged communities with select committee processes in normal times. It is harder to produce submissions when a person relies on computers at the library rather than a home office,” Dr Crampton said.
He added that since smokers and many ex-smoking vapers are disproportionately from severely disadvantaged communities, they will be struggling to deal with closed schools and jobs. Producing submissions on legislation will not be any kind of priority.
“Frankly, it boggles the mind that the House of Representatives is spending any time whatsoever on this legislative process during the current pandemic.”
“Every Member of the Committee and every official with reviewing submissions have far more important things to do – pressing things that cannot be delayed until after the pandemic,” he said.
Dr Crampton wrote in his submission to the Ministry of Health that the Government “does not want to hear from vapers” because it knows they will “strongly protest” many of the legislation’s provisions.
“The Government’s refusal to amend deadlines as a consequence of the Covid-19 lockdowns is a deliberate effort to suppress submissions by those who would oppose the Government’s proposed legislation. It is deeply antidemocratic.”
He suggests extending the deadline for submissions until well after the present lockdown protocol and asked the House to lengthen the reporting deadline to allow appropriate consideration time.
The Initiative’s submission also includes policy proposals such as more autonomy for bars and restaurants allowing vaping on their property; greater differentiation between rules applied to vaping and rules applied to smoking; and, removing restrictions in the Bill that prevent those making and distributing reduced-harm products from encourage smokers to switch.
Dr Crampton also pointed to a “sneaky” definitional change in current legislation which would ban Swedish snus, a very effective reduced-harm alternative to cigarettes.
“Again, I believe this sort of nonsense is precisely why the Government is shielding this legislation from effective scrutiny by rushing it through in the middle of a pandemic and national emergency.”