Dr Liz Gordon: Kangen water and the price of ciggies


You saw it first in this column, last year.  I said that Māori and Pasifika people in low-income communities were being conned with the promise of health-giving alkaline water, and encouraged to purchase a machine to make it and sell it to friends and neighbours.  The model was the sort of Tupperware party.

Now it is revealed that, in Samoa, Kangen water is being used as a sort of faith healing tool for people with Measles. You might remember that I said (and was told off as some kind of cultural imperialist for doing so) that there was a very clever and compelling script at the Kangen party.  Had I not been old and ornery I might have been taken in too. And I had all the advantage of that long education in critical thinking in and outside the academy. Most of the other people at that party seemed enthusiastic about the product.

I feel so bad that, in this awful crisis in Samoa, Kangen water is viewed by some as a solution more trusted than immunization. We need to immunise communities against the depredations of snake oil salespeople as well as the Measles. And we need to ensure that health services are trusted by the people. And no more Kangen water scams.

On another matter….

You will not hear me say this very often, but Winston is exactly right in his critique of the continual rise in the price of cigarettes.  What have we gained? Smoking numbers have gone down, especially among the young and the poor, but not enough, and vaping has arisen as the hero alternative.  Tobacco companies are now putting their future into the new technologies.

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While vaping is not generally as harmful as cigarettes at the moment, it could be as bad, or worse, depending on what is in those little bottles of liquid. The ability to market different fillings (if you can call them that) to different demographics has more scope than cigarettes ever did. Vaping liquids can be weak or strong, sweet or sour, full of drugs or herbal – anything you want really. There are really big dollars to be made. Oh yes and the vaping tools themselves also target different demographics.  Pink and shiny for the girls, large, black and huge vapour clouds for the manly men, and everything in between.

For the moment, cigarettes remain the gold standard.  Every dairy or service station, and the odd liquor store, is constantly under threat from armed burglaries. There is a lot of money to be made on the black market, and the next increase on 1 January will just increase the value of that illicit trade, and push people into the uncharted waters of vaping. I think the policy is not now fit for purpose. 

In the public health field, there are a lot of people who want to control cigarettes and alcohol by price point. I have always considered this somewhat inhumane.  First you get your people addicted to substances, then put the price up on them. I know my own view comes from my life experience of an alcoholic mother who basically lived on whisky and milk in the last few years of her life.  Increases in her loved addictive substances (she was also an avid smoker) (and by substances I don’t mean milk) would have caused her immense personal pain and suffering. So my view is idiosyncratic, not research based in this case.

Perhaps we can cure people’s addictions with Kangen water? (First take your expensive cigarette and light it, then throw Kangen water over it). I do support a smoke free Aotearoa by 2025, and because of vaping I think it will be achieved.  Kiwi companies should get into the vaping game (Manuka honey flavour in a 100% organic vaper, anyone?) (or cannabis in hemp?) to support poor smoking tourists who want to travel here once the ciggies have gone.

I promise I will never again say I agree with Winston. Bomber will sack me from this (unpaid) blog if I do!


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. How about they ban vaping!

    And there are plenty of cheap cigarettes flooding the market and those doing it, and making massive profits under name suppression (due to ‘hardship’) as the police find millions in cash in plastic garbage bags and they engage a QC to get them off.


    The best thing to happen to Maori and PI or anyone else, is that they don’t start smoking or vaping!

    And it works to keep the price high, aka a lot of people I know have finally given up after a near lifetime of smoking, because of the cost.

  2. Adding nicotine to addict people seems to be the game changer…

    “The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recently released National Youth Tobacco Survey found that more than five million American teenagers have used e-cigarette products in the past month, with nearly a million using them daily, making vapes the biggest substance use ever in this age group.

    The study went further to conclude that more than a third of high school students who use e-cigarettes are vaping at least 20 days per month, along with a fifth of middle school users, rates which scientists suggest indicate increasing dependence on the products.

    “That’s a big escalation from a few years ago when it was mostly experimental use,” says Neal Benowitz, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.

    But while the 2,290 incidences of vaping-related lung injury across the US, including 47 deaths, have captured the headlines over the past couple of months, Levy believes that these acute cases are merely the tip of the iceberg. Her research suggests that far more teenagers may have unknowingly already incurred the beginnings of lung illness through vaping.”


  3. Where does this domestic sanctioning end? When these do-gooder lobbyists have priced everything containing fat, sugar, salt, meats, or products with the wrong colour, name, origin or image out of reach of the ordinary NZer? When we’re all eating the same thing, believing the same thing, doing the same thing and praying to the same online bullshitting billionaire demigod? Increasing the price of something just because you can is sick, it replaces free market desire with the notion that people will just give up on buying because they don’t have the money to pay for it. This can only punish the lower classes, and collectively. It replaces the wisdom of the crowd with the greed and evil of the few. Like what America does with it’s disgusting sanctions to the world, punishing innocent communities by withholding essential food and medicine and weaponising money and goodwill. Only psychopaths do this.

    • This can only punish the lower classes, and collectively.

      Soooo, what I get from the entirety of your comment, Popeye, is that you’re content with the “lower classes” eating unhealthy foods which leads to Diabetes T2, heart disease, stroke, amputations, millions wasted on medicines, and a short life span?

      Because most of the time, unhealthy, highly processed, salt/sugar/fat-laden foods are cheaper than healthier products.

      • Hey Frank – be nice to Popeye, he is, after all a spinach man.

        When, back in the mists of time, I was a primary school girl, we had cooking classes at the normal school, wearing white aprons and caps.

        We were taught, and we learned, nutrition. I still recall the invalid cookery – poached fish – and only once did we do carbohydrate/sweet stuff – making the only sponge cake which I have ever made.

        Along the track we studied nutrition as part of our School Cert general science option. There we learned the importance of vegetables providing the roughage to sweep out our intestines like little brooms. ( I now know that that’s handy anti-bowel cancer territory too.)

        But, by the time my daughter hit primary school, cooking lessons had become sexist stereotyping, so the pc girls made copper pictures instead.

        How on earth are people meant to know what’s healthy, and how often do they pause – unprompted – to think this way ?

        Now, for the first time, I’m wondering were there vested interests in stopping school children learning about healthy food and eating ? It sure as hell wouldn’t have been the national carrot or turnip or gherkin growers’ association.

        As an expert of every aspect of smoking, vaping, budgetary restraints, and quitting smoking, I completely concur with Liz and Winston Peters on all this.

        There are people to whom smoking tobacco may be the only pleasure in their life. It may cripple their life or shorten it, but so what ? We all die anyway. Govt excise on tabocco pretty much compensates health costs, and premature death saves the tax payers heaps and heaps.

        Frankly, instead of addicts collecting butts from the front steps of hospitals, and at bus stops – where the biggest butts are to be found – and going without heating in winter, govt needs to look at the big picture – and five will get you ten that there is infinitely more money spent on getting harmless people to stop smoking, than there is on protecting children from all harm, or punishing evil pedophiles.

        Further, one of the Nats’ privatisation-by-stealth processes was flogging off the Quit Line – which used to be good, with nice normal sort of people running it – to a PHO clique. Comparable stats could be interesting.

        Many make money out of smokers – while condemning them like prissy medieval churchmen – and publicly judging them is plain downright mean.

      • Re the right to ingest

        Fish contain salt, fruits contain sugar. There is no reason to have these products regulated by some wealthy helicopter mum with access to lobbying and the legislation that governs our lives. How does raising the price of food benefit anyone but the seller and their mouthpiece? If I want to buy booze then I should be free to do so, without the anti-alcohol lobby treating me like a criminal devil worshipper, or the local checkout operator insisting on signing off my purchase with three forms of ID and a blood sample. I mean alcohol has been brewed for thousands of years and now we can’t even enjoy a pint or a glass of wine without some newly minted health apparatchik harping on about our intake? Get a life.

      • Maybe that is the point, target the poor because it just has to be them eating all the bad stuff (that or punish them because they really don’t know how to save themselves). Maybe Nisbet can draw one of his cartoons to explain it all for us.

      • So what! Who are you to assume you have the right to tell them what they’re allowed to eat, drink, smoke whatever.
        And I note this policy doesn’t affect those with the money to do so whatsoever, which makes it discriminatory on the grounds of socioeconomics.
        We don’t do this to any other sector of society. It’s simply classist.
        As for the health argument, surely we have the right to make unhealthy choices. Whether you like them or not. Smokers have been paying for 2012 and others since then.
        To assume you have the right to dictate to the poor what they’re allowed to eat, drink or smoke is condescending and superior.

      • It’s not price that should be the target but the addition of sugar and salt to food.

        For mine I would limit the amount of salt added to prepared meals, canned foods etc, and the same for sugar (including drinks – adding cane sugar to chocolate flavoured milk is a crime). The amount of salt and sugar in the cheaper products is conditioning the children of the poor to a lifetime of poor food choices.

        As for Oak and adding can sugar syrup to canned fruit …

      • I was referring to the regression to the mean of consumer utility, where in a socially advantageous market good people sell desirable products at a fair price and shoppers let sellers know if they are both valuable and fair via feedback. It’s like neoliberalism except the market has a brain, heart and soul.

  4. It’s amoral for the middle class to profit from addiction, via taxation of tobacco used largely by the underclass.

    The public sale of a product containing a carcinogen – the tar in tobacco should never have been allowed. Nor should it continue. Addicts should get their supply from a chemist – one pack at $20, the second and others at $40 within each period – those who remain high users should be referred for addiction treatment).

    As for related matters – it’s already known that vaping marijuana is very unsafe. And is bound to be raised by those opposing the legal purchase or growing for personal use.

    Whether vaping is a safe way to partake of nicotine is not yet known – to allow people to become addicted to this product is poor “form”. And the mass uptake of it by people well under age 18 is should never have been allowed, nor should it remain tolerated.

    • No-one should be referring to lower class or under class people. It’s judgmental, ignorant and tacky. None of knows anything about others, except what they choose to reveal. That’s my second golden rule.

      First golden rule is, “Do unto others…

  5. Well done everyone for the fascinating debates on tobacco. Any thoughts on NZ generating the snake oil Kangen water as a panacea for the Islands. I put it much in the same category as the teaching of Christianity.

  6. I also agree with Winston and Liz about rising tobacco prices.
    Smoking tobacco is unhealthy and should be discouraged, and rising prices have very probably contributed much toward falling smoking rates.
    But there will likely be a point where the cycle of regular tax increases no longer achieves anything except tobacco becoming “brown gold”. The retailers that stock the brown gold, especially the people that work in these mostly small shops (at minimum wage) become increasingly vulnerable to armed robbery.
    I think that point is about now.
    Some people think that promoting vaping is one answer.
    I am not convinced that promoting a vaping culture whilst trying to dismantle a smoking culture is the answer.
    Reducing smoking rates has until now largely been a stick approach, perhaps it is time to try more of a carrot approach.

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