How did you get into the vapour business?
After a pack a day smoking habit for 20 years I completely quit, almost overnight, with the use of e-cigarettes. No pressure from anyone else and no ‘willing’ my way through it.
I was so amazed at how easy the transition was that I could not believe that e-cigarettes weren’t everywhere. Even more shocking: so little was known, locally, about e-cigarettes. Being that New Zealand (NZ) is a fair way behind many other parts of the world in terms of uptake of e-cigs, I knew right away that there was an opportunity for a business; a business that would be connected with positivity, a business that would strive off its customers’ gains.
After almost 12 months of research, planning and developing, the virtual doors were open for trading.
The road to opening was fairly long and I went through a huge learning curve. A core fundamental was, and continues to be, compliance with NZ laws. Our goal is to effectively support our clients, long term. Compliance is the only way to ensure longevity. So I had a lot to learn regarding the parameters surrounding the industry and how those factors affect what we can and can’t do. Then I actually had to commit to building the business with these restrictive conditions.
Tell us about the current stand of your company?
NZVapor is solely focused on the NZ market. Being that the operation is compliant with the necessary laws and the hub of our business is providing smokers and vapers with a nicotine based product, we remain in a bit of a niche. Unlike some other establishments running out of NZ we are able to work towards, and learn from health sector representatives and key decision makers.
To ensure ongoing compliance, we have invested heavily in the supply chain and our business operates a small manufacturing facility in the USA.
The business has grown from a very small operation, but we are now proud – and thankful – to service thousands of vapers. Some of our customers are ex-smokers or soon to be ex-smokers and some are experienced vapers who prefer to utilise out facilities and products.
What is the philosophy behind your business operations?
As the business continues to grow we remain intent on helping our communities. We believe, in the long term, electronic cigarettes should be more accessible than analogue cigarettes.
To us, the race is not to make a sale, it is to become the known brand across the market segment. Our business structure allows for untainted, reliable access to these great products. We aim to be linked to the vaping community long term and hope to become respected friends of the tobacco harm reduction sector.
How did people respond when you started out?
People are always interested in what we do. They all have their own way of enquiring and gaining information, but the info they are after is always the same: people want to know about the health effects, the financial benefits and they are always surprised at the level of personal support in the vaping community.
E-cigarettes are a consumer driven product. The industry continues to advance and it is great being a part of it. There is very little governmental research funding of these products and almost all of the time information is spread through word of mouth. Vapers are supporting vapers.
Because information-based media is often not broadcast on a large scale we are finding that the uptake of vaping is relatively slow in NZ, so I take any opportunity to talk directly to smokers, vapers or anyone who shows interest. I am lucky enough to have learned a lot about our industry and always seem to have information that is intriguing for those who I am talking to.
How have things changed?
One of the things I absolutely love about this industry it that it is improving so quickly. There are new, more technologically advanced products being produced almost daily.It’s no secret that the vaping market has split into many camps, particularly the health sector. Because of that there are many pressures being put on products. I actually see these pressures as a powerful tool that forces the evolution of juices and hardware, they form a pathway that indicates a potential to do things better, safer and more efficiently. It is important that we allow these pressures to generate lessons. Education forces our sustained growth – to be a part of something that is on such a positive trajectory is great.
Is advocacy part of your daily business operations?
I am passionate about what I do. I’m passionate about how I believe I can help. The advocacy work I involve myself in is a natural addition to my day. Sometimes it is outwardly seen work, sometimes it is something as simple as thinking of how we can rally a few vapers to do something like sit in public, vaping in the open.
Vaping is relatively unknown in NZ so doing something as simple as being in public with my e-cigs helps other vapers to feel like they can do the same.
We need to normalise vaping in NZ. I have on my side the fact that, unlike smokers, a vaper will connect with another vaper. Complete strangers will talk, swap info, learn new techniques and talk about their gear and suppliers. Connecting, even at that level, is very important. The more we are connecting the wider yet tighter the community grows. We recently had Dave Dawn and Paddy Costall in NZ to help raise awareness about vaping.
The time we spent was a great success and we spoke to some great contacts, from academics to tobacco harm reduction specialists to politicians.
I am no advocacy expert; in fact I have never done any work along those lines before. When it comes to vaping, involvement in advocacy work seems a natural obligation to me. When we have a product that has the potential to create such change I believe it is important to have people discussing the products on all levels.
It’s illegal to sell nicotine-containing e-liquids in NZ. How do you operate with such restrictions?
Unfortunately it is still illegal to sell nicotine-based e-liquids in NZ. And unfortunately we do have a few non-compliant companies out there blatantly breaking the law and selling over the counter. That is good in the sense that people are actively purchasing something other than a cigarette but the potential flow on problems that stem from that action, in my view, comes in two parts:
First: In the eyes of an enforcer, a law is a law. You choose to be either on the right side of the line or the wrong side. I worry that those who are selling product illegally are creating a black spot on a very fragile young industry. I worry that illegal transactions could taint the mindset of key decision makers.
Second: If not managed, the actions of these rogues actually create a commercial disadvantage for those who are complying with the guidelines set by our government. Every time an illegal trade is made in place of a legal one, the ‘rogues’ get stronger and the good guys take a hit. If the playing table tilts too far we risk being stuck with the ones who cheated their way through and we lose the ones who respected the parameters. Then who do our people have to deal with?
We are fully compliant with both the NZ Smokefree Environments Act and NZ Medicines Act. They are the laws governing the importation, manufacture and sale of nicotine based e-liquids.
Because of this NZVapor does not currently have stores. All purchases from the website NZVapor.com are made outside of the country and all products are shipped in by the client, making the client the importer and all imports are intended for personal use.
Tell us about the current mood on vaping in New Zealand?
Vapers in NZ are still the underdog. It’s a funny thing: many smokers turn to vaping as a ‘way out’ but once they have made the change often feel as though they actually found a ‘way in’. As the word continues to spread we are finding more inquisitiveness and much more of a positive mindset. I am a member of a number of groups around the country, and, because of my advocacy work, I know most of the retailers.
The feeling in all levels of the industry is very much mutual, that we are all in a bit of a pressure-cooker, and the pressure is building. Many of us feel as though we are right on the edge of something that will completely replace smoking and hopefully the negative side effects that come with it. I personally feel as though we have a groundbreaking product that has the potential to positively affect hundreds of thousands of my fellow Kiwis.
We all know how destructive smoking can be. To remove the negative effects from smoking and the attached devastation would be amazing.
We are all also, on the other hand, very frustrated. We have this product and we want to get it out to those who need it, but the access is restrictive … And, when we do gain access, we are constrained in what we can say. I truly believe I can help people, but it is challenging when you can’t tell someone exactly what it is that you know your product does.
NZ is on par with Australia in terms of tough tobacco legislation. What do you believe it will it take in order for the harm-reduction of vapour products to be recognised by the New Zealand government?
Recent independent reports from the UK have shown e-cigarettes to be around 95 per cent less harmful than analogue cigarettes. That’s not ‘here nor there’, that’s a huge improvement!
Based on that report, Public Health England (PHE) has recognised the health and financial benefits that would amount from the reduction in smoking. PHE is one of the biggest and most well-known health sectors on earth.
As more results from ethical trials become available the unfounded ‘risks’ that are said to be associated with e-cigarettes will be debunked and information based on factual evidence will flow. Information that is based on data can’t be easily dismantled and will need to be acknowledged. Once that acknowledgement is established the ball will have been set rolling.
I hope the NZ Health Ministers have seen the stance taken by PHE and I hope they are considering their options in following suit.
See NZVapor.com for more info.
Interview: J.N. Booth