The sale of disposable e-cigarettes could be regulated under strict New Zealand-style rules or even banned altogether, with Health Minister Mark Butler claiming nothing is off the table amid the government’s campaign to crack down on vaping.
As vaping among young Australians skyrockets, the federal government has launched a public consultation process through medicines regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration on nicotine vaping products.
The TGA will seek feedback on proposals to curtail vaping, including stricter import controls, rules around flavouring, and labelling the products to make sure people know if they contain nicotine.
Mr Butler hasn’t ruled out implementing a blanket-ban on disposable vapes or introducing tougher regulations, such as those in place in New Zealand, where vaping products need to be registered with the government before they can be sold.
The TGA is due to report back early next year before Mr Butler is due to meet with state and territory ministers to discuss the issue.
“I know this is going to be a difficult path,” Mr Butler told reporters at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday.
“A real genuine response to vaping is going to require co-ordination between not just health portfolios at a commonwealth and state level, but a range of other portfolios like border control.
“But all of the health ministers are committed to dealing with this challenge.”
Vaping rates are soaring, with the number of calls about e-cigarettes to the national poisons hotline more than doubling between 2020 and 2021.
Australia last October made it illegal for people to import nicotine vaping products from overseas websites without a valid prescription from an Australian doctor.
It was already illegal for Australian retailers to sell nicotine vaping products, even to customers with a valid doctor’s prescription.
But the devices, particularly disposable vapes, are still readily available behind the counter at tobacconists and convenience stores across Australia.
Mr Butler took aim at tobacco companies, saying it was clear vapes were being marketed “not just to adolescents, but in some cases, younger children”.
“Parents are aware that vapes are being marketed to our community with pink unicorns on them, bubblegum flavours,” he said.
“It’s no mystery who those are being pitched to.”
Speaking on the 10th anniversary of tobacco plain packaging laws being introduced in Australia, Mr Butler also announced several new tobacco regulations.
Labor will seek to “streamline” Australia’s tobacco-related laws by updating them and merging them into a single regulatory Act, Mr Butler said.
The reforms include updating advertising regulation to capture e-cigarettes as well as traditional cigarettes.