It has been over a month since Federal Health Minister Mark Butler announced Australia will overhaul its vaping laws and regulations, but the effect of the new crackdown is yet to be seen with a Wollongong vape user claiming nicotine e-cigarettes have never been easier to buy.
Restrictions on selling e-cigarettes and increased penalties on nicotine vaping laws placed back in October 2021 saw a growth in the vape black market, in response the government is trying to now take control of the situation through the reforms.
The main goal of the government crackdown is to put a stop to young people, particularly those under-aged, easily accessing and using e-cigarettes and targeting the reform on importers and vendors.
UOW director of first year Chemistry Dr Jody Moller has studied the use of e-cigarettes and vapes and said some aspects of the new regulations are positive, but claimed that the situation isn’t black and white.
“The difficulty amongst limiting flavours is that what is actually present in the samples isn’t necessarily the label that they have on the packaging,” Dr Moller said.
“For example, we analyse a lot of e-cigarettes in our labs here at the University of Wollongong and something that is labelled tobacco flavour also has sweeteners and things like vanilla, and other flavour and chemicals in there.
“There is no magic tobacco flavoured molecule that is used to make it taste like tobacco.
“We can limit what they call the packaging but I think what we’ll find is a lot of companies simply modifying their recipes to say tobacco – but it will still taste like strawberries.”
There is no doubt the vaping market is catering to young Australians, with the most recent data on smoking released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2020-21 indicating the age group of 18-24 has the highest proportion of people to ever use an e-cigarette or vaping device.
Data source: ABS Smoking released 21/03/2022
People aged between 18-44 were also three times more likely than people aged 45 years and over to have used an e-cigarette or vaping device.
Data source: ABS Smoking released 21/03/2022
Data from the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey shows that use of e‑cigarettes increased across most age groups, but the most notable was young adults and their frequency of usage.Those aged between 18-24 increased usage at least monthly to almost double from 10.3% in 2016 to 17.9% in 2019.
Dr Moller accredits the increase of young people taking up vaping and their frequency of usage to disposable e-cigarettes, believing banning them is a step in the right direction.
“I think disposables are actually what has pushed e-cigarettes into the young people’s market,” Dr Moller said.
“Vaping has been in Australia for at least ten years now to a reasonable extent, young people really didn’t take up vaping until the disposables were available.”
The perspective of Wollongong vaper and UOW student Daniel Franco is that disposable vapes are currently at their peak of availability, since he started vaping in 2019.
“I used to have to go to the shops 20 minutes away to the only tobacconist that sold them under the counter, who was cash only and I had mates that would buy them on Snapchat from vape dealers, which is insane,” Mr Franco said.
“Now they’re everywhere, like even at the corner store. Every tobacconist has them and they don’t even try to hide it cause there’s usually a menu list of flavours on the counter, some even have them sitting in plain sight.
“It’s just crazy because you hear the government’s doing all of this stuff to stop it but every time I go to my local he’s telling me they’ve got new flavours coming in that weren’t really around before and the packaging at the moment is still the same and coloured.”
Although Mr Butler said the reforms would be implemented with urgency, according to The Guardian a transition period may be needed.
“E-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes but they’re not – not harmful at all. They still have things in them that are dangerous, particularly a lot of heavy metals,” Dr Moller said.
“I think the best pathway forward would be to regulate both vaping and smoking under a similar regulatory scheme.”
Mr Franco agrees, claiming the Government’s main drive to regulate vapes comes from their lack of current financial gain of the product whilst it is out of their control.
“The Government will continue to make money off of cigarette smokers no matter what and have regulated them in a way that benefits them,” Mr Franco said.
“Why not do the same with vapes? I know there’s not as much research into what’s in vapes but both are clearly bad for your health so I think the Government needs to stop picking its poison, all in or all out.”
Image credit: Guest Article House