Government to double down on ‘failed’ vaping laws following ‘flawed and misleading’ study

Government to double down on ‘failed’ vaping laws following ‘flawed and misleading’ study

The Albanian government is expected to double down on “failed” vaping laws in the wake of a “flawed and misleading” study backing Australia’s prescription-only approach.

The federal government is to crack down on the importation and sale of up to 90 million illegal nicotine vapes. Plain packaging, new taxes and increased border controls are all being considered as the government tries to stop children becoming addicted to vaping. The use of illegal nicotine vapor has been linked to a decline in student behavior in classrooms across the country, while the increase in vape use has also raised environmental concerns due to the amount of plastic that cannot be recycled.

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler rejected a move away from the current prescription-only approach in an interview on ABC radio on Wednesday, instead saying he would strengthen controls at the border.

The government’s stance comes amid accusations that an ANU study released on Monday “recycled misleading claims about the harms of vaping” and “falsely implied vaping leads to smoking”.

Under laws introduced by former health minister Greg Hunt, it is illegal to possess and use nicotine vaping products unless you have a valid medical prescription. The TGA justified the laws as a way to “prevent adolescents and young adults” from vaping, while providing a way for e-cigarettes to be used to help people quit smoking.

But critics argue that the restrictions have failed on both counts.

Critics argue Australia’s prescription-only vaping laws have created a “thriving black market” and have failed to prevent young people from accessing “dodgy” vaping products. Photo: Getty Images

“The failed prescription-only model for vaping has created a dangerous black market selling happy disposable vaping products to young people,” Dr Alex Wodak and Dr Colin Mendelsohn from the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association said in a statement.

“Meanwhile, the adult smokers who need these products to help them quit deadly cigarettes are forced to grapple with unregulated and potentially dangerous products or risk returning to smoking.”

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The criticism was supported by Nicole Lee of the National Drug Research Institute and Brigid Clancy of the University of Newcastle, who pointed out that while only two per cent of 14-17-year-olds had used vaping products in the past year, this doubled between 2016 and 2019 Meanwhile, only eight percent of adult vapers had a prescription.

“The black market makes drugs more dangerous because there is no way to control quality. And it makes it easier, not harder, for teenagers to access it because there are no restrictions on who they can sell or buy from,” Professor Lee and Ms Clancy wrote in the conversation.

“The way to reduce the black market is to make quality-controlled vapes and liquids more widely available, but limited to adults.”

The government is cracking down on vapes because ‘they want a piece of the pie’ in taxes

This approach was backed by the National Party this week, with leader David Littleproud calling for vaping products to be regulated in a similar way to traditional cigarettes.

But when asked about the proposal, Mr. Accusing the Nationals of wanting to “normalise vaping”, Butler said he was “determined to take strong action to stamp out vaping” by cracking down on the illegal importation of vapes.

Minister Butler cited a peer-reviewed ANU study, released on Monday, which purported to confirm “multiple risks from e-cigarettes”, particularly for young people and non-smokers.

The study’s lead author, Professor Emily Banks of the ANU National Center for Epidemiology, said the study “supports Australia’s prescription-only model for e-cigarettes.”

This was echoed by Professor Steve Robson, President of the Australian Medical Association, and Chair of the Cancer Council’s Public Health Committee, Ms Anita Dessaix.

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said he was “determined” to drive out vaping. Photo: NCA NewsWire / James Gourley

But according to Dr Mendelsohn, the ANU study merely recycled findings from a 2022 ANU report, which were refuted in a peer-reviewed reply published in the Drug and Alcohol Review.

Dr Mendelsohn told the 2022 report was “flawed and misleading”, with the criticism he co-authored:

“It did not compare the relative risk of harm from vaping to conventional cigarettes; it did not consider the net public health impact of vaping; it ignored evidence that vaping is effective for smoking cessation; and it has confused causation and correlation in the interpretation of the relationship between youth and cigarette smoking.”

Dr Mendelsohn said the authors wrote to Professor Banks about her study’s flaws but failed to hear back, and while the study released this week claimed to include new evidence, the conclusions of the studies were identical.

Dr Colin Mendelsohn claimed the ANU study “reclaimed misleading claims” that were refuted in a peer-reviewed critique. Photo: John Appleyard

Professor Banks’ claim that the study supported the current “prescription-only model” for regulating e-cigarettes has also drawn sharp criticism, with the Australian Association of Convenience Stores saying the claim was “pretty ridiculous”.

“The prescription model was intended to keep vaping out of the hands of children and provide access to adults. It had the complete opposite effect,” AACS CEO Theo Foukkare told

“Professor Banks is one of the academics who supported the introduction of the current prescription model. While it may work in theory in academia, the practical reality is that it has been turned into the wild west that is easily accessible to our youth.”

“More than $2 billion is spent by Australians to buy the more than 90 million illegal unregulated Chinese products imported each year. All of this is captured by the black market and illegal Australian online sellers along with sales available on most social media platforms.”

The government is cracking down on vapes because ‘they want a piece of the pie’ in taxes

Mr Foukkare said both Mr Butler and the head of the TGA, Professor John Skerrit, had both “publicly admitted” the current model was broken and needed to be fixed.

“The Australian government needs to focus on the real world and urgently reform the laws so that the category is strictly regulated like other adult consumer products such as alcohol and tobacco,” he said.

“We need action now and we cannot afford another 12 months of failure under a slightly modified prescription-only approach.”

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