1 May 2023
By Natassia Chrysanthos, The Sydney Morning Herald
Disposable vapes used by more than a million Australians will be banned under a major crackdown on vaping that aims to rid convenience store shelves of thousands of products, but the federal government will make it easier for people to vape with a doctor’s prescription.
Health Minister Mark Butler will lay out the government’s ambitious plans to eliminate a rampant vaping black market in a National Press Club speech on Tuesday amid concerns that a new generation of young people have become addicted to nicotine.
Nicotine vapes are already illegal without a doctor’s prescription but legal loopholes and weak enforcement at the border and in shops have allowed sales to flourish under the counter as well as online.
One in six teenagers between 14 and 17 have vaped and a quarter of 18 to 24-year-olds have vaped, according to a recent study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, while Butler has previously said there were as many as 2 million vapers in Australia.
Australia will achieve a world first if it successfully winds back the black market – which sources most of its products from China – and limits vaping to people with a doctor’s prescription.
However, proper enforcement will require a major boost to both Australian Border Force and state and territory police resources, the details of which are still being worked out.
A government spokeswoman said the Therapeutic Goods Administration and Border Force would receive more funding to ramp up their enforcement, but the additional workload and costs had not been finalised.
Butler said the federal government would work with states and territories to stamp out the vaping black market and the import of all non-prescription e-cigarettes, acting on a TGA review that recommended tougher controls.
For the vapes that remain legal when purchased with a doctor’s prescription, further rules will apply: restrictions on flavours and colours, pharmaceutical-like packaging and limited nicotine concentrations and volumes. There will also be a total ban on single-use, disposable products.
Butler said he would also make it easier for people to get a prescription for “legitimate therapeutic use”. Currently, there are a limited number of doctors willing to prescribe vapes as a smoking cessation tool.
The TGA’s website says it has approved 1635 applications, although it only publicly identifies 277 in-person prescribers nationwide, and medical groups have typically only recommended vapes for smoking cessation as a last resort.
Butler will tell the National Press Club on Tuesday that vaping has undermined the success of former Labor health minister Nicola Roxon’s world-leading tobacco plain-packaging reforms.
“Just like they did with smoking, Big Tobacco has taken another addictive product, wrapped it in shiny packaging and added flavours to create a new generation of nicotine addicts. This must end.”
The convenience store lobby group, some harm reduction experts and the Nationals had pushed for vapes to be regulated like cigarettes so the government could reap $300 million in tax revenue – a proposal fiercely rebuffed by Butler and the health sector.
The government will spend $63 million in next week’s budget on an evidence-based information campaign to discourage Australians from vaping or smoking.
A further $30 million will go towards quit support programs and training health practitioners in nicotine cessation. The tackling Indigenous smoking program will also be extended and widened to include vaping, for an extra $140 million.