Australia to ban recreational vaping in major crackdown on e-cigarette black market

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The Australian government will ban e-cigarettes through a heavy set of controls on imports and packaging to discourage vaping, especially among teens, under its biggest smoking reforms in more than a decade.

Australian Health Minister Mark Butler on Tuesday said vaping has become a top behavioral issue in high schools and a growing problem in elementary schools but recognized the products have a therapeutic use under the right circumstances.

Vaping involves heating a liquid that contains nicotine in an e-cigarette which is vaporized and inhaled by the user. It is widely seen as an alternative to smoking cigarettes and a product to help smokers quit tobacco, but instead, teens and even young children are taking up vaping as an addictive habit globally.

“Vaping was sold to governments and communities around the world as a therapeutic product to help long-term smokers quit,” Butler said.

“It was not sold as a recreational product – in particular not one for our kids. But that is what it has become – the biggest loophole in Australian history.”

Announcing the new regulations, Butler said non-prescription vapes will be banned from importation, and vape products will be required to have pharmaceutical-like packaging, aimed at being sold as products to help smokers quit only.

Brightly colored, fun-flavored packs that lured younger users will be restricted, and all single-use and disposable vapes will be banned, Butler added.

“This is a product targeted at our kids, sold alongside lollies and chocolate bars,” Butler said.

“Just like they did with smoking, let’s be clear about this, Big Tobacco has taken another addictive product, wrapped it in shiny packaging and added flavors to create a new generation of nicotine addicts.”

Before the changes were announced Tuesday, the only legal way to sell a nicotine vape in Australia was through a prescription provided by a doctor to a pharmacy – but the products were still widely sold across the country.

A “black market” of convenience stores and gas stations selling the nicotine vapes without any labeling or warnings to minors have thrived under a lack of regulation and action, according to Butler.

“No more bubblegum flavors. No more pink unicorns. No more vapes deliberately disguised as highlighter pens for kids to be able to hide them in their pencil cases,” the health minister added.

Nearly $20 million will be used to help Australians quit vaping and over $41 million earmarked for a national information campaign aimed at youths, Butler said. Australia’s tobacco tax will also be increased by 5% per year over the next three years starting on September 1.

Vapes are disproportionately used by young people in Australia, even as the country has one of the lowest tobacco smoking rates among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member states.

One in six teenagers ages 14 to 17 have tried vaping, while one in four people ages 18 to 24 have also tried the smoking alternative, Butler said. More shocking was the widespread availability of these products across the country – with four in five teenagers saying they could get vapes in their local retail stores without question.

Researchers have found links between nicotine addiction among adolescents and children as a result of increased vaping habits. Teenage vaping has also been linked to psychological issues, headaches, stomach aches and significant addictions to nicotine.

Some argue that e-cigarettes are a good substitute for regular cigarettes, and in some countries they are even promoted as smoking cessation devices. But the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “e-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, and pregnant women, as well as adults who do not currently use tobacco products.”

Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s, the CDC also warned.

Vaping has become ubiquitous in many of America’s high schools, prompting the US Food and Drug Administration to start tackling “epidemic” levels of use among minors in recent years. About 2.55 million middle and high school students in the US use e-cigarettes, according to the 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

Adolescents who vape are also starting younger and using e-cigarettes more intensely, according to a study published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom is also tackling high-levels of youth vaping but is pushing it as an alternative to help long-term smokers quit.

Up to 1 million smokers will be encouraged to swap cigarettes for vapes, the British government suggested in April.

Under the scheme, nearly one in five smokers will be given a “vape starter kit” alongside behavioral support to help them kick the habit, the British Department of Health said. Pregnant women will also be offered financial incentives to stop smoking in what will be a world first, the government added.


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