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New Zealand tobacco retailers’ understandings of and attitudes towards selling Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems: a qualitative exploration
  1. Jerram Bateman1,
  2. Lindsay Robertson2,
  3. Louise Marsh3,
  4. Louise Thornley4,
  5. Janet Hoek4,5
  1. 1Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
  2. 2Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, UK
  3. 3Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Cancer Society Social and Behavioual Research Unit, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
  4. 4Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand
  5. 5Department of Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Professor Janet Hoek, Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand; janet.hoek{at}


Introduction In 2017, the New Zealand Government signalled its intent to legalise the widespread sale of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), which many New Zealand retailers have actually sold for several years. Although ENDS uptake may reduce the harm smokers face, it requires them to adopt an entirely new practice; we therefore explored how effectively existing non-specialist tobacco retailers could advise and support potential quitters.

Methods Using in-depth interviews with 18 tobacco retailers (prior to legislative change), we explored knowledge of ENDS, attitudes towards selling ENDS and supporting customers’ cessation attempts, perceptions of ENDS’ risks and benefits, and views on the proposed legislation.

Results Participants generally had poor knowledge of ENDS products and provided either no advice or gave incorrect information to customers. They believed that the main benefit consumers would realise from using ENDS rather than tobacco would be cost savings; relatively, few saw ENDS as smoking cessation devices. Those who stocked ENDS did so despite reporting very low customer demand, and saw tobacco as more important to their business than ENDS, citing higher repeat business, ancillary sales and rebates. Participants typically supported liberalising ENDS availability, though several expressed concerns about potential youth uptake.

Conclusions Tobacco retailers’ limited understanding of ENDS, and the higher value they placed on tobacco, suggests they may have little capacity or inclination to support ENDS users to quit smoking. Licensing schemes for both ENDS and smoked tobacco could simultaneously reduce supply of smoked tobacco while requiring ENDS retailers to meet minimum knowledge standards.

  • tobacco control
  • retail
  • regulation
  • public policy

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  • Contributors LR and JH conceptualised the project and obtained funding; LR, JH and LM designed the interview guide and sampling procedure. LR and LT undertook the interviews. LR, JB, JH and LM analysed the data; JB, LR and JH led the overall MS development; LM and LT provided feedback on drafts. JH, LR and JB responded to the reviewers’ suggestions. JB is lead author and JH is senior author; other authors are listed in descending order of contribution. JB and JH are the MS guarantors; all authors have seen and approved the final manuscript version.

  • Funding University of Otago Research Grant, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine Strategic Grant.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval University of Otago Delegated Authority acting for the University Human Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.