Vaping reforms: experts divided over whether it will make nicotine addiction worse


Experts are divided over whether proposed new vaping reforms will stamp out a rise in its use among young Australians, or fuel an uptake of smoking.

Health Minister Mark Butler announced a major vaping crackdown this week, including banning popular single-use disposable vapes and barring the import of non-prescription vaping products into Australia.

Adults will only be able to purchase vapes in pharmacies with a prescription rather than in retail stores, and vapes will only be sold in plain packaging and flavours.

Mr Butler described vaping as the “biggest loophole in Australian history” and the “No. 1 behavioural issue in high schools”.

“I’m just not willing as the nation’s Health Minister to normalise this product,” he said.

The move has been welcomed by health organisations such as the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the Alcohol and Drug Foundation and the Public Health Association of Australia.

However, not everyone is convinced the reforms will do what the government hopes.

Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association chairman Joe Kosterich said the reforms will block off a pathway for smokers to quit while not preventing children from getting their hands on addictive nicotine products.

“Whilst some of these health organisations are patting each other on the back, people who are actually trying to give up smoking or people who have successfully given up smoking by vaping are going to be suffering,” he said.

“It’s already illegal for teens to vape, you can’t make it more illegal than it currently is, and if they’re going to get them on the black market, the black market will get even stronger because of these moves.”

Dr Kosterich urged the government to reconsider their prescription-based approach and to consider adopting the same stance as New Zealand, which supports smokers to switch to vaping while discouraging those who don’t use tobacco products from starting to use them.

However, Dr Kosterich’s arguments are being questioned by other experts who say the moves will help to stop a rise in young people taking up vaping.

Although vapes were introduced as a tool to help adults quit smoking, they’ve become a device to get young people hooked on tobacco products, according to University of Newcastle research fellow Courtney Barnes.

“Whilst the long-term health impacts of vaping are still emerging, research shows that vaping can result in acute lung injury, poisoning, burns and toxicity through inhalation,” she said.

“Specifically among youth, the risk to brain development as a result of consuming nicotine, a common component in these devices, is particularly concerning.”

Dr Barnes argues that teens can easily access illegal vapes through convenience stores, which is why they should only be sold in pharmacies.

The decision to make vapes only available in pharmaceutical settings isn’t logical, according to Dr Kosterich, as it will make vapes harder to obtain than regular cigarettes, which are more harmful.

He cited a 2016 report from the Royal College of Practitioners that found that the hazard to people’s health arising from inhaling vapour was only 5 per cent of the danger caused by smoking tobacco.

“You don’t need a doctor’s appointment to buy cigarettes, why do you need a doctor’s appointment to get a 95 per cent less harmful option?” he said.

Though vaping is important in supporting smokers who are trying to quit, professor of chemistry at RMIT University, Oliver Jones, says it is important to note that it is “not just a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes even though they are often seen like this”.

He argues that vaping products, including ones that claim to be nicotine-free, often contain other ingredients.

“Vapes on the market have also been found to contain all sorts of other potentially harmful chemicals that were not listed on the label,” he said.

He argues that some people may be driven back toward traditional cigarettes; however, the new government policy is a step in the right direction but more needs to be done.

“I think there is strong evidence that the current approach isn’t really working,” he said.

“Imposing minimum quality standards and making vapes pharmacy-only won’t solve the problem, but these measures will at least help people be assured of the content of the products they buy – as long as the rules are enforced.”

Originally published as Experts divided over Mark Butler’s new vaping reforms


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