Vaping laws need to be urgently enforced at all levels of government to tackle an epidemic of e-cigarette use among young people, experts say.
The Cancer Council Australia is calling on the Federal Government to take stronger action following the publication of updated research by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
The NHMRC’s statement on e-cigarettes released Thursday said the devices are not only harmful, but there is limited evidence they help smokers quit.
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Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly considers e-cigarette use the most important health issue after COVID-19.
Leading tobacco control expert Libby Jardine told AAP that more needs to be done to enforce existing laws and stop illegal imports of nicotine e-cigarettes across the border.
Poor law enforcement at all levels of government has created an “epidemic of e-cigarette use among young people”, said the chair of the Cancer Council’s Tobacco Issues Committee.
“The Australian government needs to say enough is enough, public health matters,” she said.
“We have this growing evidence of the harms of e-cigarettes…now is the time to act.”
In New South Wales, since October 2021, nicotine products are only available to people over the age of 18 when prescribed by a doctor for the purpose of smoking cessation, from an Australian pharmacy or via importing into Australia with a valid prescription.
For all other retailers in NSW, the sale of e-cigarettes or e-liquids containing nicotine is illegal.
The restriction on illegal nicotine sales extends to online stores with a maximum penalty of $1,650 per violation, six months in jail or both.
Selling to minors also comes with hefty fines. For individuals, up to $11,000 for a first offense and up to $55,000 for a second or subsequent offence; and for corporations, up to $55,000 for a first offense and up to $110,000 for a second or subsequent offense.
The Cancer Council wants more efforts to ensure that nicotine e-cigarettes are only available to people with a medical prescription trying to quit and that states and territories stop illegal retail sales .
He also wants a blanket ban on nicotine-free e-cigarettes that harm children and hinder legal control of nicotine devices.
“It didn’t happen by mistake,” Ms Jardine said.
“It was driven by an industry that wants to cash in on these products and the tobacco industry is in the thick of it…to try to bring in a new generation of nicotine addicts.”
In the United States, federal health officials have ordered vaping company Juul to pull its e-cigarettes from the market.
The action is part of a broader effort by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring scientific scrutiny to the multibillion-dollar vaping industry after years of regulatory delays, reports the Associated Press.
The FDA noted that Juul may have played a “disproportionate” role in increasing teen vaping.
Australian research shows that young people use e-cigarettes or vapes more frequently and that one in five people aged 18 to 24 who have never smoked before have tried the devices, NHMRC CEO, the Professor Anne Kelso.
The NHMRC statement raises serious concerns about the risks of e-cigarette devices to public health, particularly that of young Australians, Health Minister Mark Butler told AAP.
“The former Morrison government was unable to finalize the national tobacco control strategy,” he said.
“I seek urgent advice on why the National Tobacco Strategy has not been finalized and options for future advice.”