Push for tough vaping laws amid ‘prohibition’ concerns

Savannah Meacham and Laine Clark |

National data has revealed one in six high school students recently vaped.
National data has revealed one in six high school students recently vaped.

Tough laws that could limit e-cigarette use to only people with a medical prescription have raised “prohibition” concerns.

However, the Commonwealth says the bill is not about banning vaping as Australia’s health ministers banded together to call for the legislation to be fast-tracked.

Legislation was introduced last month to stop the importation, manufacture, supply and commercial possession of disposable single-use vapes outside of pharmacies.

The Greens have not taken a stance but leader Adam Bandt on Friday warned “prohibition doesn’t work”. 

“We’re having a look at the legislation and we’re talking with experts and stakeholders as we work through our position,” he told reporters.

“Generally, we know that prohibition doesn’t work and hasn’t worked in the past but we also are very concerned about the rise, especially with the children, of vaping.”

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler hit back, saying the new legislation was not banning e-cigarettes.

“This is not prohibition,” he told reporters.

“This was presented as a therapeutic good and it should be regulated as such.

“It should be available only on prescription and only through a pharmacy.”

The Greens’ questions have fuelled speculation the vaping bill being negotiated in parliament may not take effect from July 1 as the federal government hopes.

The Nationals have raised concerns while the Coalition is yet to adopt a formal position.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called for the parties to get on board to pass the important reform.

“The idea that you would not do everything you can to prevent damage to people’s health, particularly young people’s health, by taking government action is something that I don’t understand,” he told reporters in Melbourne.

Mr Butler did his bit by putting on a united front in Brisbane on Friday, addressing the media flanked by health ministers from around the country.

The health ministers called for the legislation to be fast-tracked, comparing the growing nicotine crisis for young people to smoking five decades ago.

Vaping shop
Health ministers are concerned about the impact of vaping on children. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

“Australian health ministers are not going to stand by and let history repeat itself,” they said in a joint statement.

They raised concerns about vaping’s impact on Australian children due to its easy access, with most sold at convenience stores often down the road from schools.

“It’s now clear vapes are being used to recruit a new generation to nicotine addiction, and it’s working,” it said.

The latest national data revealed one in six high school students recently vaped and young people who do it are three times more likely to take up smoking.

Some young people may already be addicted to vaping but NSW Health Minister Ryan Park said this should not mean the nation sits on its hands.

“I’ve got a 13-year-old, if he decides to start vaping he’s not doing that to get off cigarette smoking,” he told ABC radio.

“He’s doing that because he’s been hooked and marketed towards a product that we know is highly addictive and that has caused untold damage.”

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler.
Federal Health Minister Mark Butler says the bill is not about prohibition but regulation of vapes. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

The Australia Medical Association supported the legislation, saying it was a chance to get e-cigarettes out of children’s hands.

“I have seen firsthand the harms they cause,” AMA vice-president Danielle McMullen said. 

“I’ve had children in my clinics who are up in the middle of the night vaping and they can’t sleep through the night because of the level of nicotine addiction that they have – and that is heartbreaking.”