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Sparking Controversy

An increase in vaping amongst youths has led to significant changes over their availability

If, like a growing number of tobacco smokers, your preferred vice is vaping, new comprehensive federal government laws, effective from 1 March will significantly impact the types of vapes considered legal, how you can access vapes and the retailers currently selling them.

Vapes, also known as e-cigarettes, are more popular than ever in 2024. These basic battery-operated devices, which work by heating a small quantity of flavoured oil (known as e-juice), produce a vapour which is inhaled by the user, acting as an alternative to smoking. Vapes come in two forms: reusable - for which the user buys a supply of oil pods, and disposable - which are discarded after the contents are exhausted.

At present, vape oils may or may not contain nicotine - the addictive property in cigarettes. Nicotine-free, or 'non-therapeutic' vapes can currently be sold by general retailers such as tobacconists, vape shops and convenience stores. The issue with these vapes is that, unmonitored, the predominantly imported devices often fall foul of the law regarding actual nicotine content, despite claims to the contrary. Nicotine, being a stimulant and the addictive property in tobacco products, is a controlled substance and its sale in Australia is restricted to customers aged 18+.

Imported disposable vapes have increasingly found favour with teens, despite the sale of nicotine-free vapes also being restricted to the 18+ cohort. According to Cancer Council Victoria (CCV), research has shown an alarming exponential uptake of vaping in youths aged 14-17 over the past three years, jumping from around 2% in 2020 to 14.5% in 2023. Also, the presence of nicotine in these often pleasant smelling, fruity-flavoured vapes that claim to be nicotine-free, is a cause for concern.

According to Hawthorn local Respiratory and Sleep Physician, Dr Su Hii, “The long term effects of vaping are largely unknown. However, medical literature has documented vapers as having similar nicotine dependencies to cigarette smokers and severe issues, like lung inflammation and scarring. Vaping has been viewed as a safe alternative to smoking but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have found many cancer causing chemicals in e-juice”. The implication of vaping as ‘less harmful’ than cigarettes is notable in the marketing of these devices.

While purchase of vapes is still possible until retailers’ supplies are exhausted, an outright ban on the import into Australia of disposable vapes, irrespective of their nicotine content, came into force on 1 January this year. From 1 March, further restrictions will be imposed on reusable vapes, making the importation of all vapes illegal without an import licence and a permit for therapeutic vapes. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), identifies nicotine-based vapes as ‘therapeutic’ in the management of nicotine-dependence, and therefore are categorised as a ‘prescription only’ device.

The new import ban follows a notable increase in the number of tobacco/vape shops throughout Melbourne, with six in Glenferrie’s shopping precinct alone. These business owners are undoubtedly concerned about the ban, with some hopeful that sales of their non-vape-related stock will keep them afloat. One local retailer told The Glenferrie Times, “The law will no doubt affect our business. We depend on over 50% of all our sales being vapes.”‌ She added, “It doesn’t make a lot of sense, because the new laws will push more people back to cigarette smoking.”

Despite the well-meaning changes to the law, logically, vapers are going to find a way to satiate their habit. One retailer opined, “I have no doubt (the new law) will just create a black market.“ In the meantime, vapers who wish to continue indulging their habit are likely to seek out a prescription as general retail stocks begin to dry up. A local pharmacist from Terry White Chemmart explained that, “at present, prescriptions for vapes are actually quite low, but we are expecting a boom around March, April”.

In addition to banning import vapes, the TGA will later this year introduce legislation to “prevent the domestic manufacture, advertisement, supply and commercial possession of non-therapeutic vapes to ensure comprehensive controls on vapes across all levels of the supply chain.”

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