Vapes: Public Health Research and Practice paper calls for Australia to ban vaping products

One of Australia’s top tobacco control experts has called for an end to the sale of vaping products, unless they are prescribed by a doctor to help them quit smoking.

Associate Professor Becky Freeman of the University of Sydney made the suggestion in a paper published in Public Health Research and Practice, a peer-reviewed journal of the Sax Institute.

Prof Freeman claims that retailers, manufacturers, and importers of vaping products have exploited loopholes in regulations, allowing them to flood the market with illicit products that attract young people.

Although Australia’s regulatory model should protect young people from taking up vaping, in reality, Prof Freeman says that manufacturers continue to import and sell vaping products containing nicotine by not labeling them as such or falsely claiming they are nicotine-free.

Prof Freeman suggests stopping the importation of all vaping products into Australia, regardless of nicotine content, unless they are bound for a pharmacy.

She argues that this would simplify and improve enforcement and put an end to young people’s easy access to vaping products.

A recent survey showed that about one-third of Australians aged 14-17 have vaped at some point, and previous research has found that vaping can cause harm, such as poisoning, burns, addiction, and lung injury.

Prof Freeman writes that Australia has fallen behind in tobacco control since the plain packaging reforms more than a decade ago.

Public health action has understandably focused on the Covid-19 pandemic in recent years, which has led to a lack of momentum in chronic disease prevention, she says.

Tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and fast food industry players have been quick to exploit this lack of focus, Prof Freeman says.

The good news is that after 10 years of minimal action, new measures and initiatives are in the pipeline to reduce smoking, which remains the single most important preventable cause of ill health and death in Australia.

The Federal Government announced in November 2022 that it would reignite the fight against tobacco addiction with a package of new measures.

These are expected to include updated graphic warnings on tobacco products, the prevention of the use of additives such as flavors and menthol, and a requirement for tobacco companies to be transparent about their sales volumes, pricing, product ingredients and emissions, as well as their advertising, promotion, and sponsorship activities.

A new National Tobacco Strategy with ambitious targets for reducing smoking rates was recently endorsed by health ministers, while the Therapeutic Goods Administration recently launched a consultation on potential reforms to prevent children and adolescents from accessing vaping products.

It comes as new legislation will be introduced to Queensland parliament on Tuesday, including stronger enforcement of illicit tobacco sales and the expansion of smoke-free areas.

The proposed laws will also include the introduction of a licensing scheme and tougher restrictions on cigarette sales in licensed venues.

Cancer Council Queensland chief executive Andrew Donne said while the adult smoking rate had more than halved in the past two decades, smoking remained a leading cause of death.

“Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease, with one in five cancers attributable to tobacco use,” he said.

Public Health Association of Australia chief executive Terry Slevin said many in the community thought “tobacco control is done”.

“It is not, and there is still more to do,” he said.

Originally published as Tobacco control expert calls for Australia to ban vaping products