Paddy Gower on Vaping ‘We’re an experiment’

The TV journo reveals the biggest regret of his life

Paddy Gower wishes his mother Joan could have vaped. It might have been the tool that saved her from a lifelong smoking addiction, which ultimately killed the 57-year-old medical receptionist.

“She smoked a pack of cigarettes a day since she was a teenager and tried everything to give up – hypnotism, nicotine patches, and my dad, sister and me all asking her to stop. She just couldn’t,” shares the popular broadcaster.

“Then Mum did the weirdest thing – she gave up smoking when she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 2006. She had a best friend who lived around the corner that she used to smoke with and after Mum died, I asked the friend, ‘Did Mum ever sneak around here for a ciggie in the last few months?’ Her friend said ‘no’.

“It’s such a strange addiction and for someone like my mum, vaping would have been a godsend. We could’ve tried to get her on to that and in all likelihood it would’ve been a better alternative for her than smoking.”

Paddy with his mum Joan, who died of lung cancer. could’ve vaped.

However, as the star points out in his new TV documentary, Patrick Gower: On Vaping, the introduction of vaping has now caused a new generation of kids, who have never previously smoked cigarettes before, to become addicted to nicotine.

The difference between smoking and vaping is that smoking delivers nicotine by burning tobacco and vaping can deliver nicotine by heating a liquid in a less harmful way.

A 2022 survey by Action for Smokefree (ASH) estimated that more than 250,000 Kiwis vape.

“One of the things that drove me to do this documentary was because there’s a real lack of information about vaping out there,” says Paddy.

“If you’re a parent, there’s nothing even on the Ministry of Health website, while schools are now dealing with a vaping epidemic.

“It’s everywhere – one out of five 14- and 15-year-olds are vaping regularly. There are now more vape shops than KFC outlets and that’s only one chain of vape store. But we know bugger-all about what it’s going to do to everybody. People who are vaping today are an experiment.

“And I can see why it appeals to teenagers… it smells nice, they’re easy to hide and are cheaper to buy than cigarettes,” says non-smoker Paddy, who hesitantly tries vaping for the first time on-screen.

“It’s a weird thing because when you suck on a vape, it’s not disgusting like taking a drag on a cigarette. It left me feeling light-headed for the rest of the day.”

New Zealand’s approach to vaping legislation has been significantly relaxed compared to a number of other countries – in Australia, a prescription is needed to purchase vaping products that contain nicotine.

Last month, our government announced it would be banning most disposable vapes and not allowing new vape shops to be set up within 300 metres of schools or marae.

It also restricted the flavours of vapes, outlawing names such as “strawberry jelly donut” to make them less attractive to children.

As a father himself, Paddy, 46, is “in fear” over what vaping is doing to our youth. He feels New Zealand has missed an opportunity to clamp down on it early.

“It’s beyond worry,” he exclaims. “Nicotine is so addictive to people that even if they know it is killing them, they cannot give it up. And we’re letting our kids have that addiction through vaping. So if they want to get off vaping, what’s the plan? There isn’t one.”

“Scientists showed me that vaping creates the same nicotine injection in the bloodstream essentially as a cigarette, which is great if you’re a smoker.

“But that’s the level of nicotine a 13-year-old kid is getting on the first day of a new high school because they’ve decided to walk home with a new group of friends, for example. If that doesn’t frighten you, what does?”

Filming the documentary, the journalist talks to 16-year-old Kawerau student Takurua, who began vaping three years ago when his cousin showed him. He admitted to vaping in class when the teacher left the room and wants to quit the habit now, but is addicted to the nicotine hit.

His principal even noticed Takurua having withdrawal symptoms at school camp when his vape was confiscated for a week.

For research, Paddy also visited Levin-based e-liquid manufacturers Lion Labs, where he made his own “raspberry lamington” flavoured vape juice (inspired by a bakery visit on the way).

Dressed in full PPE, viewers will see Paddy measure propylene glycol – the same chemical used in smoke fluid for smoke machines and fog generators – which makes up half of the vape liquid.

“Yet ‘stageshow smoke’ is not recommended for inhaling!” he says. “I also learnt there are 40 chemicals going into the flavour alone. What happens if too much of one goes in, or too much of the other?

“It was really interesting going to California and meeting Maggie Davis, whose 52-year-old mum Mary died from vaping legal marijuana after vitamin E acetate was added into some vapes for a time there.

“What that showed me is that by adding some small change to the ingredients, it can create a very dangerous product.”

Watch Patrick Gower: On Vaping on ThreeNow.

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