Kiwi firm on a mission to break smoking habits in Samoa

Vapo Alt, a New Zealand-based company, is on a mission to break the generation long habit of smoking cigarettes in Samoa and the Pacific through vapo products.

One of the company’s Managing Director, Jonathan Devery and Sales Manager Hamish McRae, are in the country for the Samoa Sustainable Business & Investment Showcase at the Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa. 

Vaping devices (vapo) or electronic cigarettes are what cigarette smokers can use as an alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes, which was the case for Mr. Devery and his business partner, who were at one stage cigarette smokers. 

What started for them as casual smoking became a habit, until it came to a point where they wanted to break that habit. So four years ago, they launched Vapo New Zealand. 

“Overseas in the United Kingdom and the United States, and Europe, vaping products were one of the fastest growing industries. Effectively what it was people who were smoking were switching to other products to help them quit,” Mr. Devery said. 

“We did a lot of research into that market, and it became very clear that that was a good business model to bring into New Zealand. 

“So four years ago, we started online and it was completely new to New Zealand, no one knew what it was, it was a really slow growing business, it wasn’t something that we focused on full time, and then it sort of got to the point there was a weekly growth until about two years ago we opened our first physical store.” 

Using their past experience of being smokers, they wanted to use their business model to find a product that will get people off cigarettes, help them save a lot of money and offer health benefits. 

“Over the last four years, a lot of evidence has come out since we launched the business, mainly from the UK people, who are very proactive in vaping, which shows that it’s at least 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes,” Mr. Devery said.

“Also with our products, if you’re a packet a smoker in New Zealand that will cost you $10,000-$11,000 a year. Our product, if you are packet a smoker and you switch to our product, you’ll save about $8,000 a year. 

“If you are spending $10,000-$11,000 a year on cigarettes and you’ve got two people in that household that is $20,000 and that household may only have an income of $40,000. So it puts so much stress on everyday life.” 

From their collaborative work with the health agencies in New Zealand and the Ministry of Health, they’ve found that heavy smokers in New Zealand come from low income socioeconomic communities, particularly Maoris and Pacific Islanders. 

And Vapo Alt wants to change that, said Mr. McRae. 

“What we did is we are looking at the high smoking rate in New Zealand and it is very clear that was Maori and Pacific Islanders,” Mr. Devery said.

“When we started doing that we thought of looking into the Pacific Islands with Samoa having a population of close to 200,000, and from the statistics, which is a bit unclear 35 percent of the population smoke cigarettes, which is 70,000 people in Samoa smoking cigarette. 

“Our Ministry of Health and the Government are very pro-vapo because they have smoke-free 2025 goal where they want only want 5 percent of the population focusing on the cigarette. 

“So part of our passion is to help New Zealand become smoke-free because for the majority of smokers in New Zealand they come from low socio-economic backgrounds. 

“Unfortunately there is a large pay gap between Pakeha and Maori and Pacific Islanders, but the Maori and Pacific Islanders smoking rate is higher than Pakeha, so you’ve actually got people who receive less income spending more money on an addictive product that kills them.”

Mr. Devery said they intend to meet the Samoan Government and how they can work on an initiative to help Samoa. 

“Meet with the Government, work out what the goal is and how we can work on an initiative to help Samoa become smoke-free, and the fastest way to do that is to get our products or products like ours into the community so that people can firstly, have more money by saving more. 

“One of the reasons we’re also here is to assess cigarettes sold here, what it looks like, costs, how we can distribute the product because it needs to be affordable to local Samoans, if it is not affordable people won’t do it. 

“Everyone knows smoking is bad, you can tell them all the health effects, people know it kills them but they do it anyway because it is engrained in the culture, so the benefit to get people to convert all the time is the financial benefit.

“It took a lot of time and effort to educate New Zealand, retailers and Government. We work closely with the Ministry of Health agencies, we educate their staff on what the products are, and how well customers’ behavioural patterns are like.”

There is waste when using the vapo as people will throw away the cartridge, he said. 

“What we are looking to do at the moment in New Zealand and Australia, and we look to put this, if we are established here in Samoa and the Pacific Islands, which is we’ve actually found the company that recycles it. 

“What that will require in New Zealand is people use their product and they can send it for free to a site, and that site sends it to the recyclers, and we pay fee for that whole process. So we would like to set that up to in Samoa once we’ve got a market share, so people would do the same, where they drop them off to a certain point and then shipped for free.”

He explained in New Zealand it costs NZ$39.99 (T$68.61) for the device, in a cartridge in a package so that costs about NZ$40 (T$68.62), and a pack of two pods or cartridges for NZ$20 (T$34.31). 

“A packet A smoker can go through a cartridge for one and a half days. So it’s significantly cheaper, what we need to do here is figure out a way how to get the product here for as cheap as possible so Samoans are getting their economic benefit of using this product. 

“The thing that drives our passion is that we’ve got people who walk into our store, who have been smokers for years, tell us that they haven’t smoked a cigarette for a day, weeks or months.” 

For them, making sure their product is affordable and educating the people on the product would be challenges in Samoa. 

According to Mr. Devery, Vapo Alt is the largest company of its kind in New Zealand and they’re very strong in Australia as well.

“Two years ago, ago we probably had seven staff at one physical store and online New Zealand,   at the moment we employ just over 80 people, we have eight physical stores, we’ve got distribution network we core range with progressive enterprises, such as BP, Mobil etc.

“Our products are now available in about 1,200-1,300 sites in New Zealand.”

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