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Wondering what new legislation means for vaping in Australia? Daneie Geddes explains the latest changes, and how Australians can expect to be affected.

The Albanese government has announced a firm crackdown on the importation of non-prescription smoking products – targeting the growing number of young Australians participating in vape culture.

These changes will stop the importation of non-prescription vapes, restrict flavours, mandate pharmaceutical-like packaging, reduce nicotine concentrations and ban single-use disposable vapes. 

Included in the 2023-24 budget’s $737 million action against smoking and vaping, the government will work with states and territories to close down the sale of vapes in retail settings, axing vape sales in convenience stores and other over-the-counter transactions. 

Australian Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler said that vaping presents significant health risks to future generations. 

“Vaping is creating a whole new generation of nicotine dependency in our community, and the Albanese Government is not going to stand by and let this happen,” Butler said. 

“Vaping was sold to governments and communities around the world as a therapeutic product to help long-term smokers quit. It was not sold as a recreational product – especially not one targeted to our kids, but that is what it has become.”

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveals vaping among Australians aged 14 or older more than doubled from 2016 to 2019 and is most common among people aged 18-24. 

The new measures aim to transform the perception of vaping from a recreational activity for young people to a pharmaceutical product intended to cease smoking. 

Paediatric Respiratory Specialist Dr Moya Vandeleur said e-cigarette nicotine labelling is often misleading. 

“E-cigarettes are not regulated, and a lot of the time, the labels don’t describe what’s actually in the e-cigarette … Studies have found that a lot of e-cigarettes that say they don’t contain nicotine do contain nicotine,” Dr Vandeleur said. 

Currently, selling vapes containing nicotine is legal only with a prescription. However, an illicit market is flourishing through convenience stores and comparable outlets. 

“There’s no regulation around the device manufacturing, there’s no regulation around what’s in the liquid, and there’s no regulation around the age group that those are delivered to,” she said.    

Under the new restrictions, vapes will only be sold in pharmacies and in “pharmaceutical-like” packaging. 

Founding Chairman of the Australian Tobacco Harm Association, Dr Colin Mendelsohn, said some of the new regulations could backfire. 

“We know from past experience that harsh restrictions are rarely, if ever, successful in reducing illegal drug supply for a product that people want … Criminal networks always find a way, supplying unregulated, more dangerous products freely to children,” Dr Mendelsohn said. 

“(Mark Butler’s) advisors appear to be a small group of ideologically-driven tobacco control academics and health bureaucrats with extreme anti-vaping views.”  –  Dr Colin Mendelsohn

Dr Mendelsohn urges the government to shift away from a prescription-based model. 

“Our preferred model is that nicotine products should be available from licensed retail outlets – such as vape shops, convenience stores, supermarkets – as adult consumer products, like cigarettes without a prescription and with strict age restrictions,” he said. 

Although the government is firm on the new reform outlined in the 2023-24 budget, the specific nature of these regulations is still a matter for discussion.

It is clear all health professionals agree Australia must promptly modify the sale and usage of vaping products to prevent their accessibility to minors. 

However, some health experts are concerned that the long-term repercussions of these strict mandates will only fuel illegal drug trade in a growing black market. 

The new regulations will take effect once states and territories devise a penalty regime with the federal government. 

NSW remains in a ‘transition period’ until state legislation is reformed under the budget’s new regulations.

Feature image by Mohamed Hassan via Pixabay 

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