Black market vaping targets Australian children

Flat White

Theo Foukkare


Theo Foukkare

31 January 2023

5:30 AM

The past week has seen some discussion – finally – of practical, workable solutions to controlling the black market in vaping products that is targeting Australian kids.

It’s something of a pity it is taking place after the closure of the government’s consultation period on future policy in the area, which is of great concern to millions of parents around the country.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the agency that currently oversees the regulation of nicotine vaping products (NVPs), closed its doors to public submissions on January 16.

Those submissions will include the proposals from the Australian Association of Convenience Stores, which triggered widespread and welcome discussion.

In contrast to so much of the commentary on vaping that is driven by the medical lobby’s interests – which warned about the risks of vaping products, our position is focused on controlling the black market via the introduction of legal, regulated, controlled sales to adults only.

To be clear, we are aligned with advocates on wanting to control youth vaping. Young people should not be using these products. Where we differ significantly from the medical lobby is in what will achieve that goal. The incessant calls for doubling down on the existing failing policy are, quite simply, divorced from reality.

To explain why, it’s worth recapping some of the facts.

Firstly, there are 1.2 million adult consumers that are using NVPs in Australia. It is a mainstream consumer product.

Secondly, around 90 per cent of those adults do not buy NVPs through the narrow legal channel, which requires them to seek a prescription from a GP. Federal Health Minister Mark Butler has repeatedly said that the previous government “dropped the ball” on vaping policy – an admission that the policy is failing.

Thirdly, the complexity of legal access to NVPs has driven illicit street demand. In response, reckless operators have flooded the country with unregulated products that are the source of much of the reasonable objections from parents and medical professionals. Many of these NVPs have colourful packaging, flavours that appeal to youth, like bubble gum and fairy floss, and absolutely no controls on nicotine content or ingredients.

Having watched the current prohibition regime fail, there are many loud voices proposing even tougher measures.

As retailers, we do not profess to be health experts – but we have a great deal of expertise in consumer behaviour and effective, responsible delivery of controlled adult products.

Demand for the product is going to continue. The question is whether it will continue to be met by rogue dealers selling unregulated products, or by responsible, tax-paying businesses selling regulated products.

The former will continue to sell to youths. The latter will not.

This is the choice that the TGA and, ultimately, the Health Minister must now answer when they announce their preferred response.

Allowing regulated sale to adults who are choosing to use NVPs will bring clarity and ease of enforcement, allowing authorities to focus on their enforcement efforts.

In contrast, enforcement of the tougher restrictions proposed elsewhere will require a mass mobilisation of Border Force and policing resources. This be disproportionately costly – and as we see with other illicit products that are freely available on the streets – ultimately futile.

Following the model proposed by retailers will achieve the public policy goal of strangling the black-market supply to consumers and youth. It will allow the government to raise taxes, pursue effective enforcement, and give those consumers who choose to vape, the confidence about the products they are using.

A policy decision that doubles down on the current system that everyone knows is failing will simply lead us to back here again, wondering how we prevent youth access.

Our proposed alternative follows the effective policies of other OECD nations where vaping doesn’t create nearly as much angst as a policy issue. It is the reasonable, practical, and workable path – and it will support everyone’s shared policy goal of cutting off the current easy access for Australia’s youth.

Theo Foukkare, CEO Australian Association of Convenience Stores 

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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