Authorities are stepping up their campaigns against nicotine vapers – despite the fact that regular cigarettes are available over the counter.
On Monday, NSW Police announced they had worked with NSW Health to seize $1 million worth of e-cigarettes and liquids this year.
“We are cracking down on the illegal sale of e-cigarettes and nicotine liquids and taking a zero-tolerance approach to those who sell them,” state health director Dr. Kerry Chant told reporters.
The law surrounding electronic cigarettes in Australia is complex.
It is illegal to sell these products over the counter. However, in most states they can be acquired through a prescription although they are not actually TGA approved.
It is also legal in all state bars in Western Australia to sell vaping products that do not contain nicotine, which experts say is a major loophole.
“The problem is that a sane person wants to buy an electronic cigarette without nicotine? Associate Professor Becky Freeman, an expert in public health and tobacco control at the University of Sydney, said TBEN.
“And so you have these products available for sale at outlets everywhere that are blatantly breaking the law, either claiming to be nicotine-free, or they’re mislabeled, or it’s people blatantly selling these produced in violation of the law.”
Associate Professor Freeman said the NSW government’s so-called ‘crackdown’ is really just belated enforcement of existing laws, as e-cigarettes are a relatively new product that is becoming increasingly popular among teenagers .
“We have a chance not to make the same mistakes we made with tobacco,” she said.
E-cigarettes: a lesser evil?
Although Australia is a world leader in restricting the sale of tobacco products, regular cigarettes are much easier to buy than nicotine vapes.
One of Australia’s few advocates of vaping as a means of weaning cigarette smokers is Sydney tobacco addiction specialist Dr Colin Mendelsohn.
Until last year, Dr Mendelsohn was the founding chairman of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association, an organization that took tens of thousands of dollars from the vaping industry in its early years. and was most recently linked to a PR firm that works with the vaping and tobacco industries.
He said DT that Australia’s anti-vape stance is “very wrong” in relation to policy on regular cigarettes.
“Naturally, the black market arose and, of course, black markets are not regulated in any way. They sell illegal and unregulated products of poor quality,” he said.
“And in particular, this black market sells to children – it’s not something that everyone wants.
“The only way to control the black market is to make it a legal market.”
In Australia, a study by the Center for Behavioral Research in Cancer found that 12% of 12-17 year olds who use e-cigarettes were able to purchase the products themselves.
Dr. Mendelsohn prescribes electronic cigarettes to his patients to kick their smoking habit.
He said that although they are not particularly healthy and should not be recommended for non-smokers, they are a lesser evil because “the vast majority of chemicals in smoke are absent from vapor and those that exist are less than 1% of the concentration.
This argument is widely dismissed by Australian health authorities and organizations that help people quit smoking.
Associate Professor Freeman said the number of smokers in Australia who quit through vaping was “quite pathetic”, although some patients are able to improve their health by making the switch.
The exact statistics are debated by both sides of the argument across the world.
“That doesn’t mean we should blanket the market with these products and make them available to everyone,” she added.
The arguments in favor of a stricter application
Associate Professor Freeman, who wants vaping to be banned altogether, said the current pattern of legal prescriptions supplemented by a burgeoning black market is “a way of not satisfying anyone”.
The latest Australian analysis from the ANU found that non-smokers who start vaping are three times more likely to smoke tobacco than people who don’t vape.
Most experts therefore consider it a dangerous gateway to smoking for teenagers.
However, Dr. Mendelsohn said those same teens who vape are already predisposed to risky behaviors such as smoking cigarettes or taking illicit drugs.
“So yes, there is an association, but vaping does not cause smoking,” he said.
Associate Professor Freeman has argued that vaping is “skyrocketing” among high school students and believes increased action by police and health authorities would be welcomed by parents and principals.