“It will be tough but we are determined to do it,” said Federal Health Minister Mark Butler of his government’s plans to clamp down on widespread illegal recreational vaping in Australia.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has welcomed the sweeping reforms announced by the federal government to stamp out recreational vaping that has grown over the course of COVID and deliberately been targeted at children.
In a National Press Club address today, Minister Mark Butler announced the federal government would spend $234m on the vaping and tobacco crackdown which had “flourished in front of our eyes” and was the result of the largest “loophole in Australian healthcare history.”
The plan will be developed with states and territories and supported with enforcement measures to be announced in the federal budget next week.
The sweeping reforms will include enforcement of import controls, new plain packaging rules and the introduction of regulatory models to close down the sale of vapes in convenience stores. This will require state and territory cooperation to coordinate a national response.
Minister Butler said the focus was not on people buying but the people selling.
“We talk about enforcement that is focused on importers and vendors. They’ve [consumers] been sold a putt. We’ve been duped,” Minister Butler said.
“We were promised that this was a pathway out of smoking, not a pathway in. If I have a key indicator, it is to stamp out the idea that this is a recreational product at all but particularly a recreational product for our kids. Knocking that market out is what I am aiming for.”
“We have a closing window before it becomes so widespread, that it would be very, very difficult to take any action.”
The government was under no illusion how hard it would be, the Health Minister said.
“We will sit down with state and territory governments to make sure we get the resourcing right both at the border and on the ground with state and territory authorities, going and checking that the convenience stores aren’t breaking the law. We have a real sense from the community, certainly from the health sector, that we have to deal with this now.”
The federal budget measure will cost a total of $234 million, including $63 million for a public health campaign to discourage vaping, and $30 million towards support programs to help Australians quit.
“Vaping was sold to governments and communities all around the world as a therapeutic product to help long-term smokers quit. It was not sold as a recreational product and, in particular, not one for our kids. That is what it has become.”
Vapes will be heavily regulated and the importation of all e-cigarettes will be strictly controlled under a federal government. Vapes will only be sold in pharmacies with “pharmaceutical-like” packaging.
“The importation of vapes for sale in retail settings will end. These are supposed to be pharmaceutical products so they will have to present that way, no more bubble-gum flavours, pink unicorns or vapes disguised as highlighter pens for kids to hide them in their pencil cases. Instead, we will have packaging with plain flavours,” Minister Butler said.
All single-use disposable vapes will also be banned. “I will ban single-use disposable vapes that clog land fill and have become toxic to our environment as well.”
Currently only one in 20 GPs are authorised to prescribe e-cigarettes. This will change under the reforms so that all doctors will be able to prescribe nicotine vapes to smokers looking to quit.
Mr Butler said vaping had become the number one behavioural issue in high schools and a growing issue in primary schools.
“This is a product targeted at our kids, sold alongside lollies and chocolate bars.”
While today only around 10% of Australian adults smoke, under 25s were the only cohort in the population where smoking rates are on the increase. In addition, young vapers are three times as likely to take up smoking according to recent research.
Mr Butler also announced an increase in tax on tobacco of 5% over the next three years starting on 1 September.
“We will also align the tax treatment of tobacco products so that products like roll your own tobacco and manufactured sticks are taxed equally. Together, these changes will raise an additional $3.3 billion over the coming four years, including $290 million in GST payments to the states and territories, helping to support our health system and the health of current and former smokers and vapers.
“More than $260 million will be invested in a new national lung cancer screening program that will prevent more than 4,000 deaths from lung cancer.”