E-cigarettes: Australia to ban recreational vaping in major public health move

(Nick Ansell/PA) (PA Wire)
(Nick Ansell/PA) (PA Wire)

Australia will ban recreational vaping in a major crackdown on the tobacco industry - in a bid to curb an alarming rise in the use of e-cigarettes by teenagers.

Vapes are currently widely available in shops in Australia, like in the UK, often coming in fruity flavours and brightly coloured packaging.

But under new rules announced on Tuesday, they will be sold only in pharmacies and will require “pharmaceutical-type” packaging.

Under a wide-ranging crackdown, the Australian government aims to ban all disposable vapes, ban the import of non-prescription vapes and limit nicotine levels, aiming for them only to be sold as an aid for smokers who are trying to quit.

“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,” Health Minister Mark Butler said in a speech.

Vaping - widely seen as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes and useful for helping smokers quit - involves heating a liquid that contains nicotine in what is called an e-cigarette and turning it into a vapour that users inhale.

But studies have shown the potential of long-term harm from addictive e-cigarettes.

Mr Butler said vaping had become a recreational product in Australia, mostly sold to teenagers and young people, who are three times as likely to take up smoking.

“This is a product targeted at our kids, sold alongside lollies and chocolate bars,” Butler said. “Vaping has now become the number one behavioural issue in high schools. And it’s becoming widespread in primary schools as well.”

In England, although the selling of vapes to under-18s is illegal, recent data shows reported use of e-cigarettes has risen to nine per cent among 11 to 15-year-olds, with vaping among 15-year-old girls going from 10 per cent in 2018 to 21 per cent in 2021.

Dr Mike McKean, of the UK’s Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health, in March warned the use of vapes and e-cigarettes by teenagers is a “new epidemic”.

Australian doctors backed the nation’s vaping crackdown but urged the government to do more to limit the number of young people taking it up.

“Nicotine vaping products are being sold featuring colourful flavours and we have even seen products featuring the same type of imagery as children’s breakfast cereal including cartoon characters,” said Nicole Higgins, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

About 22 per cent of Australians aged 18-24 have used an e-cigarette or vaping device at least once, data last year showed.

Though a prescription is needed to buy nicotine vapes in Australia, a thriving illegal market means they are readily available.

The federal budget, due out next week, will include A$234 million (£126 million) for measures to protect against the harm caused by tobacco and vaping.

Australia already has one of the toughest anti-smoking laws in the world.

In 2012, it became the first country to force cigarette producers to abandon distinct, colourful branding and sell their products in uniformly drab packets.

Tobacco firms were quick to switch to e-cigarettes that offer different flavours and created designs targeting a new generation of users.

Mr Butler said the government had no plan to follow neighbouring New Zealand in banning cigarette sales for future generations but said the tax on tobacco would be raised by 5 per cent a year over the next three years in a bid to curb sales.

Some countries have tried to restrict vaping and some see it as a good way to get smokers to kick the habit.

Last month, the UK said up to one million smokers would be encouraged to swap cigarettes for vapes, in what was a world first, offering financial incentives for pregnant women and providing e-cigarette starter kits to help.