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Tobacco experts blame legal loopholes for vaping epidemic

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Just weeks after the importation of disposable vapes became illegal in Australia, health experts are calling on the federal government to address further legal loopholes. 

Limiting the supply of products, banning advertising and increasing associated fines is being deemed “crucial” in the fight to reduce the alarming number of young people facing lifelong addiction

The regulation of nicotine levels and flavours in prescription vapes is also something that needs to be addressed urgently, too, they say.

The calls for reform stem from a group of leading Australian tobacco control experts that are referring to current youth vaping numbers as “epidemic”. 

Associate Professor Becky Freeman from the University of Sydney, Professor Tanya Buchanan, CEO, Cancer Council Australia, and Anita Dessaix, chair of Cancer Council’s Public Health Committee outlined the pressing need for vaping reform in a new commentary in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health last week. 

While they praised Government reforms introduced on 1 January, the group says more needs to be done. 

“Currently, non-nicotine vapes are exempt from regulation that restricts vape access to those with a doctor’s prescription,” says lead author Associate Professor Becky Freeman. 

“It’s a legal loophole that allows retailers such as tobacconists, convenience stores, chicken shops and petrol stations to get away with selling vapes under the guise that they don’t contain or aren’t labelled as containing nicotine.  

“The reality is that most of these e-cigarettes do contain nicotine, and even non-nicotine vapes are harmful. 

“The alarming increase in youth vaping has gone hand-in-hand with the increasing retail availability of these products.  

“The proposed reforms will be welcomed by schools, parents and teens struggling with the vaping epidemic.” 

The academic commentary also takes aim at retailers, who the authors say are “knowingly selling nicotine-containing vapes to young people”.  

“Vapes are sold in local shops near schools, with enticing displays of lollies lining the entrance, attracting the attention of young people,” says co-author Professor Tanya Buchanan.   

“The vapes come in the same candy-scented flavours and are sold illegally to teens and children.  

“Those advocating for more open access to vapes say that responsible retailers should be allowed to sell vapes like any other consumer good.  

“These groups happen to have a commercially vested interest in selling these products. 

“Many of these so called ‘responsible retailers’ are also currently knowingly selling nicotine vapes to minors.”  

Co-author Anita Dessaix says it’s important to remember that the reforms do not “ban” vaping, nor will the new laws criminalise people who vape.  

“A cornerstone of the government’s policy is ensuring that people who smoke who have decided they need vapes to help them quit smoking can still access them with the personalised advice of a health professional,” she adds.

“The new reforms strike the balance between protecting young people from a notoriously predatory industry and providing controlled access to a highly-addictive and harmful product.” 

Public Health Association of Australia CEO Professor Terry Slevin says the latest evidence-based commentary should send a strong message to politicians about the need to support a strengthened and enforced prescription pathway.  

“We urgently need these reforms in place to protect the next generation from reckless retailers and the destructive nicotine industry,” he said.

“The proposed reforms are sound, necessary, and backed by evidence.  

“We are calling on all members of Parliament to get the job done and support these legislative changes, to close loopholes and protect the health of Australians, particularly young people.”  

Ending the importation of disposable, single-use vapes came into effect from 1 January.  

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