Vaping laws must be enforced by all levels of government as a matter of urgency to combat an epidemic of electronic cigarette use among young people, experts say.
Cancer Council Australia is calling for stronger action from the federal government following the release of updated research by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
The NHMRC statement on e-cigarettes released on Thursday said the devices are not only harmful but there is limited evidence they help smokers quit the habit.
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Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly considers the use of e-cigarettes the next-biggest health issue after COVID-19.
Leading expert in tobacco control Libby Jardine told AAP more must be done to enforce existing laws and stop unlawful imports of nicotine e-cigarettes at the border.
Poor enforcement of laws at all levels of government has created an “epidemic of e-cigarette use among young people”, the Cancer Council’s tobacco issues committee chair said.
“The Australian government needs to say enough is enough, public health matters,” she said.
“We’ve got this mounting evidence of the harms of e-cigarettes … now is the time to act.”
In NSW, since October 2021, products containing nicotine are only available for people over the age of 18 when prescribed by a medical practitioner for smoking cessation purposes, from an Australian pharmacy or via importation 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 curb on illegal nicotine sales extends to online shops with the maximum penalty of $1650 per offence, six months in prison or both.
Selling to minors also comes with hefty fines. For individuals, up to $11,000 for a first offence, and up to $55,000 for a second or subsequent offence; and for corporations, up to $55,000 for a first offence, and up to $110,000 for a second or subsequent offence.
The Cancer Council wants more done to ensure nicotine e-cigarettes are only accessed by people with a doctor’s prescription trying to quit smoking and for states and territories to shut down unlawful retail sales.
It also wants a blanket ban on non-nicotine e-cigarettes which are harming children and hampering the legal control of nicotine devices.
“This hasn’t happened by mistake,” Ms Jardine said.
“This has been driven by an industry who want to make a profit out of these products and the tobacco industry is in the thick of it … to try and bring in a new generation of nicotine addicts.”
In the United States, federal health officials have ordered vaping company Juul to pull its electronic cigarettes from the market.
The action is part of a sweeping effort by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring scientific scrutiny to the multibillion-dollar vaping industry after years of regulatory delays, Associated Press reports.
The FDA noted that Juul may have played a “disproportionate’‘ role in the rise in teenage vaping.
Australian research shows younger people are using e-cigarettes or vapes more frequently and one in five people aged 18 to 24 who had never smoked before have tried the devices, NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso said on Thursday.
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 not able to finalise the national tobacco strategy,” he said.
“I am seeking urgent advice about why the national tobacco strategy has not been finalised and options for future advice.”