ActivePaper Archive Rethink needed on vape blanket ban - The Age, 7/5/2023

Rethink needed on vape blanket ban

Almost two years after the Morrison government moved to curb widespread access to nicotine-based vaping products, it is clear the prescription-only ‘‘solution’’ has failed. Instead of cruelling demand for vapes, the requirement for users to obtain a prescription for nicotine has created new, and more lucrative, opportunities for manufacturers and distributors of vapes.

Disposable vapes, often containing extraordinary levels of nicotine, are easily available to anyone, including children and adolescents, via chain convenience stores, corner shops and some service stations. They are sold in an array of lolly-like flavours intended to entice young people.

The easiest work-around for distributors since the introduction of prescription requirements has been to remove labels showing how much nicotine might be in the product. That means children are often unwittingly buying products from retailers that have as much as 50 milligrams of nicotine per millilitre of fluid, about four times the average strength of cigarettes.

Vast quantities of nicotine-based vapes are also being imported online, often from manufacturers in China. As the Therapeutic Goods Administration noted in a consultation paper in November, not only were existing regulations ‘‘not achieving their intended purpose’’ but a large black market in vaping products had emerged. Federal Health Minister Mark Butler vowed he would crack down on vaping, and in May the government unveiled plans to ban single-use, disposable nicotine-based vapes; staunch the import of non-prescription-based vaping products; and impose standards regulating flavours and content.

Adopting a seven-year national tobacco strategy to combat smoking and nicotine addiction is inherently an excellent idea, and the government’s recent plan was welcomed by medical groups appalled by what they see as a vaping epidemic and a rise in smoking rates. Groups supporting the proposal included peak bodies representing doctors; medical research groups; and state and territory health departments.

But, as emails released under freedom of information laws reveal, at least two of the 10 members of the Australian National Advisory Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs have expressed misgivings about a blanket ban on vaping. They fear it may further stimulate an already burgeoning black market; that it fails to properly incorporate harm reduction strategies; and that a better response would be to regulate supply of nicotine-based vapes rather than trying to extinguish the trade. At the same time, lobbyists representing convenience stores have argued that vapes should be regulated in the same way as tobacco.

Rather than broadly legalising them and regulating them in the same way as tobacco or alcohol, The Age has urged a more cautious approach due to the uncertainty of health effects. Research literature on pros and cons of nicotine vaping shows mixed results. While nicotine vapes have helped many smokers quit, the long-term health effects are not clear. By all means, tightly regulate local, over-the-counter sales to ensure vape ingredients are fully labelled. Regulate to ban sales of any nicotine products to young people, and ensure only tobacco-licensed traders can provide them. Tax vapes heavily to make them less affordable.

But where does that leave the control over online imports and the secretive black market trade that slides past Australia’s borders? Notwithstanding what the government might hope Australian Border Force can do, its officers evidently do not have the resources to staunch the flow of small parcels containing nicotine. Prohibition might sound seductive in its simplicity, but it can be complicated in its implementation and lead to worse results. Nuance is needed. We agree strongly with the intent on reining in this product, but the government needs to rethink its proposed blanket ban.