Should Smokefree Indoor Areas = Vapefree Areas?

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Prof Nick Wilson, Prof Janet Hoek, A/Prof George Thomson, Prof Richard Edwards

Vaping blogThe NZ Ministry of Health is currently reviewing public submissions on options that would allow nicotine-containing e-cigarettes to be sold legally in NZ. This consultation raises questions about how the wider uptake of e-cigarette use (known as “vaping”) will be managed. In this blog, we consider arguments about the indoor public settings where vaping should be allowed or prohibited. We conclude that there seems an overall strong rationale for “Smokefree = Vapefree” in all circumstances for the indoor areas covered by current smokefree laws and policies.

It is timely that the Ministry of Health is considering whether and how to allow access to nicotine-containing e-cigarettes in NZ. These products could potentially increase quit rates (though scientific evidence on this point remains unclear) or move nicotine-users to where their health is at lower risk of harm. However, regulatory changes that allow nicotine-containing e-cigarettes to be sold in NZ give extra emphasis to the question of where vaping should and should not be allowed in this country. Internationally, regulators have also had to address this question; for example, indoor area vaping bans already exist in many places within the USA (eg, (1)), with most overlapping with smokefree areas. Similarly, the recent Cabinet Paper relating to the NZ situation suggests that “the use of e-cigarettes is prohibited in smoke-free places”, and that this approach will require legislative change (2). Given this background, we aimed to briefly explore some of the arguments for and against extending indoor smoke-free provisions to vaping.

The case against restricting vaping in indoor public places

1) The potential value of shifting smokers to become vapers

From a public health perspective, it might seem preferable to allow vaping in some settings where smoking is not permitted; such a measure could encourage smokers to switch to vaping (ideally on a long-term pathway to become nicotine-free) by making vaping relatively more attractive as it is allowed where tobacco smoking is not. Indeed, vapers themselves have voiced the potential benefit of “normalisation” of vaping, relative to smoking, when arguing against any bans on public vaping (3). However, if smokers are to be given an incentive to move completely to vaping, it may be better to provide those incentives in other ways (eg, the price differential via higher taxes on smoked tobacco). Any potential benefit of normalising vaping also needs to be weighed against other considerations, which we discuss further below.

2) Discomfort for vapers in vapefree areas

Allowing vaping in indoor places where smoking is not permitted could minimise any discomfort that vapers may experience from nicotine-withdrawal when in sych spaces. Nevertheless, this discomfort could be a fairly modest downside, given findings from a recent survey of exclusive e-cigarette users in the USA. This study found that of those vapers who reported not being able to vape in places where smoking is typically banned, “only 12% (n=124) reported finding it difficult to refrain from vaping in places where they were not supposed to” [4]. Also evidence from NZ smokers (5) and US smokers (6) suggests that many support smokefree areas, with one reason for this being because these areas help to encourage them to quit (6). Such a situation might also apply for some vapers who wish either to constrain the level of their vaping, or to become nicotine-free.

The case for indoor smokefree = vapefree

1) Vaping generates potentially hazardous “second-hand aerosols”

A recent systematic review of 16 studies reported that: “passive exposure to electronic cigarette vapour has the potential to lead to adverse health effects” (7). A WHO-commissioned review also concluded that second-hand aerosols (SHA) “[are] a new air contamination source for particulate matter, which includes fine and ultrafine particles, as well as 1,2-propanediol, some VOCs [volatile organic compounds], some heavy metals, and nicotine” (8). Furthermore:

“the levels of some metals such as nickel and chromium are higher in SHA from ENDS [electronic nicotine delivery systems] than in second-hand smoke (SHS) and certainly background air. Compared to air background levels, PM 1.0 and PM 2.5 [hazardous fine particulates] in SHA are between 14 and 40 times, and between 6 and 86 times higher respectively. In addition, nicotine in SHA has been found between 10 and 115 times higher than in background air levels, acetaldehyde between two and eight times higher, and formaldehyde about 20% higher. Except for heavy metals, these compounds are generally found at lower concentrations than those found in SHS. At present, the magnitude of health risks from higher than background levels of these compounds and elements are empirically unknown.” (8)

“While some argue that exposure to SHA is unlikely to cause significant health risks, they concede that SHA can be deleterious to bystanders with some respiratory pre-conditions. It is nevertheless reasonable to assume that the increased concentration of toxicants from SHA over background levels poses an increased risk for the health of all bystanders.” (8)

Given this assessment, it is not surprising that the WHO recommends to Parties of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (which includes NZ) that they consider “Prohibiting by law the use of ENDS/ENNDS in indoor spaces or at least where smoking is not permitted” (8). Furthermore, the fine particulates referred to above are considered by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to be proven causes of cancer (9). Nevertheless, the SHA issue is likely to evolve as vaping technologies and usage practices continue to change (see comment below on “sub-ohming”) and the degree of any risk posed to non-vaping bystanders becomes clearer.

2) The simplicity of laws matters

The need for simplicity supports a “smokefree = vapefree” approach as a good law that achieves high compliance needs to be readily understandable to people who vape and those around them. Exemptions that allow vaping in some indoor smokefree settings (eg, certain workplaces or restaurants or pubs) but not others, may risk creating confusion. Simplicity would also enhance citizen-led enforcement by reducing confusion between a cloud of vaped aerosol at a distance and a cloud of cigarette smoke (though some argue that this confusion does not occur for most people).

We are familiar with the many problems that arise when countries (eg, the Netherlands) have adopted complex smokefree indoor area laws (eg, exemptions for some types of small pubs; permitting smoking rooms; defining half an indoor area smokefree etc). The same problems apply to complicated definitions of outdoor smokefree area requirements, as NZ’s former complex smokefree area calculator illustrates – see this Public Health Expert Blog (10).

3) Risks of normalising smoking

As discussed above, smoking and vaping at a distance can look similar to some people – as both produce visible clouds exhaled from people’s mouths after they have drawn on a device. Some vapers themselves admit to this similarity; for example, some cite visual similarity as a reason why they do not vape around people eating (3). If vaping is regarded as having similarities to smoking, allowing vaping indoors may risk re-normalising tobacco smoking in environments that are currently smokefree and may lead smokers to query why, if vaping is permitted somewhere, smoking is not. Such renormalisation of tobacco smoking would be particularly problematic if it affects children, as it may increase the risk that they become susceptible to or initiate smoking.

4) Risks of vaping triggering relapse to smoking

Close exposure to others’ vaping may also risk relapse among people who have recently quit smoking or vaping. While there is no scientific evidence for this relapse risk (that we could identify), an experimental study found that exposure to a video showing vaping “significantly increased smoking urge (p < .001) as well as desire for a regular cigarette (p < .05) and an e-cigarette (p < .001) among young adult smokers” (11). Another experimental study found that “exposure to the e-cigarette cue but not the regular cigarette cue also increased desire to smoke an e-cigarette (p<0.01)” [12]. Also of note is US work that reports that former smokers who use e-cigarettes may have a potential for higher alcohol use (13), and that e-cigarette use prohibitions are associated with less alcohol misuse (eg, when using Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test scores, p=0.001) (14). This is relevant given that heavy alcohol consumption is a risk factor for smoking relapse.

A further consideration is whether vaping is seen as a permanent activity, or as a temporary way to provide nicotine while giving up smoking, as a transition to not using nicotine at all. If public health policy is based on the latter, then it may be unwise to adopt any policy, such as indoor vaping areas, that could suggest vaping should be a permanently allowed activity.

5) Avoiding costly legal actions against vaping in workplaces

Given the air pollutants generated by vaping (as noted above), workplaces that permitted indoor vaping (such as restaurants and pubs) could be at risk from legal action by staff or their unions. Such legal action would be an additional cost to the tax-payer funded judicial system.

6) Nuisance impacts from vaping

Regardless of the potential health risks, some people find second-hand aerosols from nearby vaping to be a nuisance – just as they do with cigarette smoke. These nuisance concerns have not however been quantified in surveys (to our knowledge). Nevertheless, it is for this nuisance reason that a recent (pro-vaping) “global vaping conference” actually banned participants from vaping in certain indoor areas ( The organisers noted that “some non-vaping delegates last year felt that they were ‘trapped’ with the vapour, which they found unpleasant and distracting, particularly during plenary and parallel sessions, when a lot of people occupied a relatively small space.” Furthermore, the organisers stated “that since last year the majority of experienced vapers have switched to high powered devices and sub-ohming, which is fine for vape meets but not so good in the conference venue where it tends to create a rather disconcerting fog bank for those who are not used to it.” Similarly, at the premier for the pro-vaping movie “A Billion Lives” in Wellington, the organisers asked vapers not to vape in the cinema as a courtesy to non-vapers.

Which argument dominates from a public health perspective?

Given these arguments collectively, we consider that there is a strong overall case from a public health perspective for central government to update the Smoke-free Environments Act with an additional legal requirement that effectively states “smokefree = vapefree” for all current designated indoor smokefree areas in NZ. In addition, we consider that as a general principle, any policy differentiation between smoking and vaping should be designed to be easily changed (eg, a price differential could be quickly changed by tax changes). Such a principle for creating policy would protect against any developments where vaping was found to have greater harms than presently suggested. The principle would also help if a strong differentiation was needed between heated nicotine devices and unheated nicotine inhalers.

If such an update to the law was to occur, it would also be a good opportunity to plug existing gaps in the law as well, such as by adopting smokefree cars when children are passengers, mandating smokefree children’s play areas nationwide, and prohibiting smoking within 10 metres of the entrance to bars and restaurants.


  1. Wikipedia,
  2. Lotu-Iiga, P.S., Electronic-cigarettes: policy options and approval to consult. [Cabinet Paper]. 2016.
  3. Farrimond, H., E-cigarette regulation and policy: UK vapers’ perspectives. Addiction, 2016. 111(6): p. 1077-83.
  4. Yingst, J.M., et al., Should electronic cigarette use be covered by clean indoor air laws? Tob Control, 2016.
  5. Wilson, N., et al., What is behind smoker support for new smokefree areas? National survey data. BMC Public Health, 2010. 10: p. 498.
  6. Nagelhout, G.E., et al., Do smokers support smoke-free laws to help themselves quit smoking? Findings from a longitudinal study. Tob Control, 2015. 24(3): p. 233-7.
  7. Hess, I., K. Lachireddy, and A. Capon, A systematic review of the health risks from passive exposure to electronic cigarette vapour Public Health Research & Practice, 2016. 26(2): p. e2621617.
  8. World Health Organization, Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems and Electronic Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS/ENNDS). Report by WHO. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Seventh session, Delhi, India, 7–12 November 2016. Provisional agenda item 5.5.2. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2016.
  9. Hamra, G.B., et al., Outdoor particulate matter exposure and lung cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Environ Health Perspect, 2014. 122(9): p. 906-11.
  11. King, A.C., et al., Exposure to electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) visual imagery increases smoking urge and desire. Psychol Addict Behav, 2016. 30(1): p. 106-12.
  12. King, A.C., et al., Passive exposure to electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use increases desire for combustible and e-cigarettes in young adult smokers. Tob Control, 2015. 24(5): p. 501-4.
  13. Hershberger, A.R., et al., Transitioning From Cigarettes to Electronic Cigarettes Increases Alcohol Consumption. Subst Use Misuse, 2016. 51(14): p. 1838-45.
  14. Hershberger, A.R., K.A. Karyadi, and M.A. Cyders, Prohibition of e-cigarettes in the US: Are prohibitions where alcohol is consumed related to lower alcohol consumption? J Public Health Policy, 2016.

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6 thoughts on “Should Smokefree Indoor Areas = Vapefree Areas?

  1. Reducing the number of people smoking is imperative. It seems likely that ECs are much better for health and also likely that ECs are a valuable tool for people moving from CCs. So maybe we should overloook some of negatives and make it easier for people to stop smoking? Lets play with some numbers: there’s a 1.9 QALE loss from smoking across a smokers lifetime ( So if a ban on vaping in public places stops just 5% of NZs ~500,000 smokers moving to vaping then, given an 80-year life expectancy, that’s an extra 600 smoking related equivalent deaths that could come from this policy.

    This makes your point about vaping causing people to relapse to smoking all the more serious. However, as a counter point, I wonder if there’s a risk for people to relapse to smoking from vaping if they are forced to share the same area. Being allowed to vape in smoke-free areas is a reason why many people switch. Having that removed as well as being branded as a ‘smoker’ and forced to be around ‘smokers’ (rather than a ‘vaper’) may see people leave the EC counter-culture to the much more dangerous habit. Given that ECs are actively used as a smoking-cessation tool, I would hazard that relapse to smoking when vaping is less appealing is more likely than vaping triggering ex-smokers to return to the habit.

    (There’s probably a minimal affect here of more vaping -> less smoking -> less triggered ex-smokers, as vape clouds would be less triggering than second hand smoke)

    Also, while the simplicity of the law does matter smokefree = vapefree is not necessarily simple. It is complicated by the contingent of people who vape only because they like to have tasty clouds come out their mouth, with no nicotine involved. Although I don’t know the research, I would imagine that this would be safer still with regards to second-hand aerosols. Also it’s arguably the more likely path for any children wanting to replicate to steer clear of the expensive, addicting form of the product. Treating these hobbyists as smokers is unfair.

    Although yeah, tough luck for them if they’re quantifiably hurting people.

    I think allowing people to bring it under their smoke-free policy makes a lot of sense; it doesn’t give free reign to vapers. It can be restricted in health-sensitive areas (old folks homes), around children etc, while still giving a separate advantage to ECs over CCs.

  2. I’m finding it really difficult to understand how you come to the conclusions you do. There is no evidence of harm to others, no gateway effect and nicotine e-cigarettes are good quitting aids. Why would you want to restrict where they can be used. There is no science behind your views which is extremely disappointing. Smoking is extremely dangerous, vaping is not.

  3. Thanks Trish for engaging with this blog. In response to the above comments:

    1) There is evidence that second-hand aerosol (SHA) from vaping contains hazardous chemicals – see the two reviews cited in the blog. Furthermore, there is a huge amount of scientific evidence that fine particulates are hazardous – and indeed IARC has defined these as carcinogenic (see the blog).
    2) Although vaping is clearing less hazardous than tobacco smoking – the biomarker studies are very suggestive of still some level of harm (as per this previous blog: So this evidence also contributes to concern in terms of SHA.
    3) The gateway issue (youth vaping leading to smoking) is still not resolved at a high level of scientific certainty.
    4) There is some evidence that e-cigarettes can help with quitting – but it is still not definitive at a high level of certainty.

    A rational society would take care with how vaping is introduced and managed – so the potential benefits of it are achieved while minimising the risks. Just one of the potential risks is that smoking indoors gets renormalised and this very important public health measure gets eroded.

  4. I think we are all agreed that E-cigarette harms are much less than smoking harms, both to the vaper and those around them. The vaper “wears” the majority of the risk, and it is still a lot less than the risks from smoking, so there is a clear health benefit to them. The only credible risks of second-hand vapour seem to me to be from metal particulates. Aerosol particulates that are made of liquids are not in the same class of hazard, because they dissolve once in the lung, unlike smoke particles. It is very unclear what these “particulates” from vaping are made up of – the metal component will be tiny, surely – and it makes a big difference to the risk profile from them.

    Low level nicotine exposure is something I would want to avoid in pregnancy, but is not otherwise any hazard, to the best of my understanding.

    So, until someone publishes a credible risk evaluation from metal particulates and shows that to be significant, or does animal studies on pregnant animals at a realistic exposure level, I will continue to think the risks overblown, and far outweighed by the benefits of removing the equivalent amount of second-hand cigarette smoke from our environment.

    We (as a society) have gone a long way towards denormalising smoking as a behavior, and we know that E-cigarettes are overwhelmingly something that smokers use to help them stop or cut down on smoking.
    I agree that the introduction of E-cigarettes needs watching and managing, but I do think that switching to vaping should be rewarded in terms of price, accessibility and acceptability in society. While those who have succeeded in switching often find tobacco unbearable after a while, in the vulnerable switching stage they can easily regress to smoking. They will not find vaping as rewarding, initially. They have to work at finding the right equipment and the right flavours and the right nicotine strength for them as an individual. We need to keep our eye on the ball of stopping smoking and be careful not to undermine this cessation/substitution method.

    As for youth initiation – the evidence thus far is against it being a significant problem. You know my views. Vaping is going to prove less addictive than smoking, and youngsters experimenting with vaping are unlikely to become addicted. We do not know how many who try vaping would otherwise have tried smoking. If they try vaping they are very likely to find it behaviourally unrewarding and it may well be that they then will not bother to try smoking, when otherwise they might have. We do not know, yet, but we do know that, in the UK, youth smoking has gone down markedly with the increasing use of E-cigarettes.

    All decisions can backfire. I see more risk in restricting vaping than I do in a more relaxed approach.

  5. Society and science are all agreeing vaping is less harmful than smoking and that second hand vape is less harmful than second hand smoke. I am subject to vaping in my NZ workplace and often suffer headaches, dry throat, dry and irritated eyes, sometimes heart pulpitations, and a light feeling of nausea. For me vaping has just materialised and gapers assume they can do it where they want, when they want with no respect or consideration to others. So while science over time assess the risks of second hand vape and society considers how it will be regulated in work and social and public settings, I suggest the benefits of vaping are going to be swamped and lost because it arrogantly has assumed it can be normalised. Without considering the smell, impact and air quality issues non-vapers can experience.

  6. Your article is informative as I have quit smoking and adopted vaping. I personally do not vape in public places or restricted areas. I like vaping but also respect non-vapers or non-smokers point of view. And if there is an implication of new thing so many rules also come with it. But vaping should be considered safer than smoking an imposing restrictions might not serve the fact to minimize the smoking rates.

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