In May the federal government revealed further restrictions to Australia’s vaping laws, including a ban on the importation of all non-prescription vaping/e-cigarette products.
Health Minister Mark Butler announced legislation aimed at dismantling the illegal vape black market, inhibiting the import of non-prescription vapes, restricting the availability of flavoured and coloured vapes, banning single use vapes, and regulating the packaging and nicotine concentration of vapes.
These new measures are in addition to Australia’s already robust system of commonwealth, state and territory laws surrounding the distribution and consumption of e-cigarette products. The ACT Government introduced a suite of new laws at the end of 2022 to decrease health related harms for young Canberrans.
The federal government’s new legislation aims to stamp out vaping through stronger enforcement, education and support. The restrictions on flavoured and coloured vapes come as part of a particular focus on combating the practice among young people. Minister Butler alleged that vapes are “being sold in retail settings to kids alongside lollies and chocolates.”
He also addressed concerns about the issue of underage smoking of traditional cigarettes by stating that they are much less prevalent among young people and in schools in comparison to e-cigarettes.
The measures are touted to make it easier for smokers wanting to quit cigarettes to do so by obtaining a prescription vape, despite the total ban on non-prescription vapes.
Any GP who applies to become an authorised prescriber of nicotine vaping products may provide a prescription. Pharmacies will become the only authorised vendor of vaping products, with the government intending to stop any vapes bound for non-pharmacy sale at the border.
Backing up these policy commitments is the allocation of $737 million in the 2023-24 Budget specifically to implement tobacco and vaping product related harm reduction strategies. The breakdown of this significant spend includes $63m towards a public health information campaign to discourage vaping and smoking habits, and $30m for quitting support programs.
The tax applied to tobacco products will also be increased by 5 per cent per year for 3 years to further deter consumption of smoking products. It is expected that an additional $3.3 billion will be raised over the next 4 years to fund Australian health departments.
“Vaping is creating a whole new generation of nicotine dependency in our community. It poses a major threat to Australia’s success in tobacco control,” Minister Butler said.
Australia was the first country to mandate plain packaging for tobacco products in 2012. Plain tobacco packaging employs health warnings and the unpleasant colour Pantone 448 C to deter cigarette consumption.
Australia is also the only country in the world to restrict access to nicotine (and now non-nicotine) vapes to prescription holders.
The country’s comparatively restrictive laws around vaping have attracted criticism including from advocacy groups which believe that prohibition is a proven ineffective strategy. Legalise Vaping Australia state that a ban on non-prescription vapes has given rise to a dangerous and unregulated market and denied an easy pathway for those attempting to quit smoking. Parallels have been drawn with the perceived failure of drug criminalisation to minimise harm and its related justice system issues.
Minister Butler highlighted that the anti-vaping laws are aimed at punishing those who import and distribute illicit vaping products, rather than consumers.
These latest restrictions will impact almost half of young people aged 15-30 who do vape or have vaped.
One ANU student who wished to remain anonymous stated: “Although I agree with the sentiment and actions of the government, the new vape laws do pain me as an avid vaper and may force me to quit.” They also expressed concern that these tougher restrictions may lead to a broader black market for vaping products, or an uptick in the number of young smokers.
Another student humorously quipped that those involved in campus student politics will be disproportionately affected by the changes.
Many non-vapers seem to be pleased with the measures, which are expected to tackle backlogs in the health system and improve overall public health. Health Minister Mark Butler believes that these latest restrictions to vaping will reduce smoking and vaping rates to 5 per cent or less by 2030.
More information can be found in the government Health Department’s National Tobacco Strategy 2023-2030.
The Department of Health’s Quitline can be contacted on 13 QUIT (13 7848).
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