The desperation, rage and panic of being a vaper in Australia – one vaper’s story

Posted on July 4, 2023 By Colin

VAPING IN AUSTRALIA has been a harrowing and unpredictable roller coaster ride. Bullied and terrorised by successive Health Ministers, many vapers feel like collateral damage in an ideological war. One vaper pulls no punches and tells her heart-wrenching story. 

Born into a family of intergenerational cigarette smokers, I was always surrounded by adults smoking indoors throughout my childhood. Aged fourteen, I tried my first cigarette ‘behind the shelter shed’ at high school. I soon began buying my own cigarettes (I had a teenage job). I’d conceal my habit from adults, ignorantly thinking my family and teachers couldn’t smell smoke on my clothes.

I’d go on to smoke well over 100,000 cigarettes over the next couple of decades. I used to joke that I could stand outside the MCG on AFL Grand Final day as the crowd shuffled in and say to each of the 100,000 spectators that I’ve smoked a cigarette for each and every one of them. I was dedicated. Well into adulthood I couldn’t even remember what it was like to ‘just breathe air’ all day. The ritual of the habit had become fundamentally ingrained into my everyday life.

As the years went by, I witnessed loved ones lose their lives to smoking. But the pull of cigarettes and a lot of self-talk about how I needed them, kept me smoking. I loved cigarettes. I still love cigarettes. If I were told I had months to live from cancer I’d doubtless enjoy a few more. The post-meal cigarette, the post-sex cigarette, the alcohol-enhancing cigarette, the driving in the car cigarette, the working hard concentrating on a task cigarette, the chain smoking when coping with a tragedy, the cigarette with a stranger that helps you break the ice and talk to strangers while travelling, these all became woven into my life. Cigarettes were a trusted friend.

I lived through the ever-increasing graphic warnings and TV ads Australian governments rammed down our throats. None of it worked on me.

The revelation of vaping

After a few failed quit attempts, in 2015, a breakthrough occurred. Vaping had been refined by 2015 to the point where it became attractive to smokers like me.

Australia certainly hadn’t made it easy for me to find vaping. Few vape shops existed at the time, a blanket ban on advertising and draconian laws around liquid nicotine meant I’d have to resort to importing what I needed through international mail from overseas vape shops.

Even learning how to understand the vape devices, with their glass refillable tanks that screwed onto a battery with a screen where you can adjust the wattage was a steep learning curve that took 50 hours of reading online. Certainly not as simple as lighting that first ciggie as a young teen. I ordered the necessary equipment and began buying nicotine e-liquid through the post from overseas.

A harrowing leap of faith took place in 2015 when I white knuckled it through about 3 months of unprecedented abstinence from smoking and embraced vaping, determined to quit smoking for good. I’d found tobacco and menthol flavoured vape liquids that I felt best mimicked the ‘throat hit’ smokers know and love. I cultivated friendly relationships with the small proprietors of these overseas online stores, and then with the domestic vaping stores that were allowed to sell the equipment, but not the nicotine-infused liquid (they sold a non-nicotine version that didn’t grab me).

As the months and years went by, the impact on my bank account was extraordinary. Gone were the regressive taxes from cigarettes that would see hundreds of dollars a week transferred from a desperate smoker to Canberra’s coffers. In truth, vaping only cost me about $12 a week.

Before long, my breathing and general health had improved, blood tests and X-rays seemed to point to me being on the right track with vaping, and people around me loved the absence of the stink of smoke, as vaping is relatively scentless

In the years that followed, I recruited two of my relatives who had smoked for decades to switch to vaping, as well as a close friend and the parent of a lifelong friend. Several of my happy ‘recruits’ stopped vaping altogether and will be thankful for this pathway out of smoking for the rest of their lives. My own vape usage fluctuated, it increased in times of stress and lessened to just one two second puff a day after dinner at some points.

In the shadows, over these recent years, hidden from the media and public health bureaucrats, countless Aussies were using word of mouth and internet information to bust down the government barriers to learning about and obtaining the product, liberating themselves from decades of smoking via this unexpected new revolutionary innovation.

Other smokers I knew weren’t interested in quitting and found themselves resorting to black-market tobacco that is now sold widely under-the-counter in ‘gift shops’, bakeries and milk bars. In fact, in the months prior to starting vaping, I’d turned to those black-market tobacco stores too, due to the unforgiving regressive taxes that have seen Australia’s legal fully-taxed cigarettes become the most expensive in the world.

I never went back to smoking cigarettes. I decided I’d like to vape for a very long time. I don’t know if I will ever quit vaping, I see it as a safer alternative to my former habitual smoking.

I don’t need to prove this to you because it is my body and my long, decades-long tooth and nail deeply personal battle with real cigarettes and you should butt out of my informed adult choice about my own body

But if I do ever quit vaping, it won’t be on a Health Minister’s coerced timeline that is for damn sure. This brings us to the harmful meddling in the lives of adult ex-smoker vapers the two recent Australian federal governments have engaged in.

The start of prohibition: Greg Hunt

My routine practice for years was sporadically ordering enough vape liquid from overseas to ensure I had enough to last for the next several weeks, until one day in June 2020, at the height of the pandemic lockdowns, the former Coalition government’s Health Minister Greg Hunt delivered a shockwave to the Australian adult ex-smoker vaping community.

Word spread in June 2020 to committed adult ex-smoking vapers that the Morrison government had announced a snap total ban on nicotine e-liquid importation. The proposed 2020 ban was to come into effect with just a couple of weeks’ notice.

This sudden plan to choke off the vape supply was devastating to countless Aussies trying to stay quit from cigarettes through the stressful first year of the pandemic, and predictably, panic buying of vape liquid ensued at a prodigious level

Many cargo plane loads of nicotine made their way from New Zealand to Australia in that tumultuous fortnight.

MPs phones were ringing off the hook in mid-2020, talkback radio and news outlets were alive with the stories of adult ex-smoker vapers who couldn’t believe they were having their trusted daily vape ripped from their hands in the middle of the chaos and fear of the early months of Covid.

But former Health Minister Greg Hunt had decided to listen to the moral panic of the embittered and prejudiced anti-smoking/anti-vaping academics who had spent decades using government as their undemocratic tool to drive down the smoking rates, willfully oblivious to the vast and unquantifiable black market in tobacco they’d created.

Sympathetic Nationals senator Matt Canavan and George Christensen led a revolt in the Coalition party room, causing Hunt to back down on the ban. However, the GP prescription model was introduced in late 2021, which thankfully kept the borders open to nicotine imports, provided you had a GP prescription you could show to Customs -  if you could get one.

I remember feeling physically ill during that harrowing fortnight of panic buying, as I scrambled to hoard a supply of vaping products and spent huge sums of money on online vape shopping

I didn’t want to spend any of this money and it was a great financial impact caused by Hunt’s totalitarian prohibitionist mid-2020 posturing. Many other Australian adult ex-smoker vapers went through the same needless financial impost and anxious time.

It may seem ridiculous and trivial to non-vapers, but just imagine you awoke one day to the government saying it was banning alcohol, tobacco, junk food or gambling in just two weeks’ time. This 2020 ban attempt was a collective trauma for the Aussie adult ex-smoker vapers, people who let’s remember are serious adults who are nursing what is to them a priceless achievement, their successful quit from smoking.

Sometimes decades in the making, quitting smoking is a fragile thing to be cherished and conserved.

Pulling the rug from under us like this, was brutal and struck terror into all of us. It is without a doubt, senseless government and bureaucratic bullying.

And so it was that in late 2021, being a law abiding citizen, I complied with the Morrison government’s new rules and obtained a GP prescription for nicotine vaping liquid and kept sporadically importing my vape liquids from overseas as needed. Australia by late 2021 had the most restrictive vaping policy in the western world and vapers could have been excused for thinking the pressure was off them for a while.

Prohibition version 2: Mark Butler

Then in 2022 the Albanese government was elected, bringing with it a new prohibitionist Health Minister, Mark Butler, who seems to hate the working class people who liberated themselves from decades of smoking using vaping.

Butler has said that his prohibitionist vape regime will still permit some limited nicotine vape products to be sold through pharmacies for those with a prescription. But this claim fundamentally fails to understand that the Pharmacy Guild has made clear to its members that it wants nothing to do with vaping. Also that most GPs are unwilling to write nicotine prescriptions.

It is likely that under the new regime, a tiny minority of pharmacies will stock the approved ‘government vape’ e-liquids, which upends over a decade of vaping culture that included numerous vape liquid flavours that satiated adult ex-smokers who were nursing their fragile cigarette quitting.

Think of the proposed new regime as a dismal vape communism, where the government shop sells only one variety of government red wine

If you don’t like the taste of that wine, stiff biscuits, you’ve lost your thousands of other wine brands and the government has put a gun to your head, threatened you with prison and quarter million dollar fines and said ‘you will like this one government flavor or you will lump it’. That is essentially what is happening.

In mid-2023 vapers are furiously stocking up on equipment and liquids, building out ‘lifetime supplies’ to insulate themselves from the prohibitionist frenzied vape supply attacks Canberra periodically carries out against law-abiding adult ex-smoking vapers.

It bears mentioning that Labor didn’t take this prohibitionist vaping policy to the Australian people in 2022, therefore it has no democratic mandate.  This is essentially government by unelected academics.

The elected minister is just a rubber stamp for what the academic anti-vape lobby wants. Most adult ex-smoker vapers would have accepted a ban on disposable vapes, and a sensible adults-only provision of the cornucopia of vape equipment and liquid from bricks and mortar vape shops in Australia, but those shops are set to be forced out of business by this heavy-handed bull-in-a-china-shop prohibitionism.

I truly believe Mark Butler’s heart is filled with a dismissive, arrogant hatred for the adult ex-smoker vapers in this country

He hates them because they dared to go rogue and quit smoking using technology he has an irrational phobia of rather than use the ineffective nicotine lozenges his pals at Big Pharma would like to sell us.

I hate Mark Butler back and I know I am sure every other Australian vaper does. I am certain he’s never given a second thought to the democratic process, the democratic rights of adult ex-smoker vapers in Australia.

He’s happy to rule over the faceless, nameless masses that his government treats like cattle to be prodded and herded.

The adult ex-smoker vapers in this country are just to be considered collateral damage in his ham-fisted social engineering project. To Mark Butler, we are not people with stories, families, long histories of battling their former tobacco habit.

We are just subjects to be manipulated as numbers on a spreadsheet while he uses the blunt tool of government force to make a huge mess in our lives. I’m not even sure he thinks for himself, he appears to just take orders from unelected academic zealots. Those academics hate us as a group too, and they are hated right back as the narrow-minded quack anti adult ex-smoker bigots that they are.

We were minding our own business, abiding by the law, getting our GP scripts, nursing our smoking cessation with a harm-reduction device. Then you came for us. You’re a bully Mark. You’re a gutless thug. This is a king hit, a coward punch.

All of us will turn to the black market if need be. There are ways around you, you buzzing mosquito. Trust us, there are ways around you. Vaping is already normal. It is not within your power to normalise or de-normalise anything. Vaping will find a way. Vaping is how we maintain quitting our cherished cigarettes. You come for that, you come for our very health.

The rise of the black market

Mark Butler’s tragic meddling in the lives of Australian adult ex-smoker vapers will lead to an unstoppable, unmeasurable and constant supply of  dodgy Chinese disposable vapes.

That is the bleak future of vaping in Australia that Mark Butler is engineering, at a time when governments in the West are even getting comfortable with legalising recreational marijuana. Butler’s prohibitionism hands the black market a near-monopoly on vaping in this country.

So for the countless Aussies who have relied and depended upon the refillable type of vape, it is time to panic buy before the borders shut forever in a matter of months. All the domestic vape shops that sell this equipment will be driven out of business by Butler.

The vape ban will lead to hundreds of Aussies thrown out of a job nationwide, small businesses shutting down and going bankrupt, as a senseless crushing of all the vape shops in Australia is planned.

Some legal and regulated vape retailers in this country are large operations, with 30 staff and a warehouse of forklifts running around. Those employees will be thrown out of a job while the black-market shops will continue selling illegal disposable vapes by the millions

It would be comedic farce if it wasn’t so deadly to adult ex-smoker vapers who are just trying to stay off cigarettes and live their lives

Nothing about us without us

Mark Butler says he spent hours meeting with anti-vaping academics. I doubt he spent even one minute meeting with adult ex-smoker vapers or the small business owners who keep them supplied, nor do I think he spent any time meeting with Australian pro-vaping medicos.

The UK and New Zealand have a sensible more liberal and compassionate understanding that vaping is here to stay and prohibition doesn’t work. Australia it seems, wants to find out the hard way that prohibition won’t work.

There is a haughty arrogance to this kind of governance, with the nanny state intrusiveness Australia is now sadly known for internationally, when we used to be known as a laid-back nation. Australia’s elites have a class war mentality where the sneering elites have decided vaping is for irrational senseless low-class losers who don’t “follow The Science®”.

The bureaucratic elites have decided they know better than us the struggle we’ve been through for decades with the smokes. Their solution is to rip the vape from our hands and leave us at the whim of the local servo or supermarket who will happily sell us smokes without onerous red tape

Public Health wowsers, from their ivory towers and ministerial offices, don’t seem to understand or have any compassion for the Australian adult ex-smoker vaper.

These elites talk a lot about the children, and we can all agree vaping is for adults-only, but where is the humanity from Australian Health Ministers of both major parties? I too was once a kid, raised in a family of intergenerational smokers, lighting my first cig behind the shelter shed at school and getting hooked.

Prohibition and snatching away adult ex-smokers’ harm reduction alternative is just violence and bullying dressed up as regulation

Adult ex-smoker vapers are the latest stigmatised government punching bag, to be sacrificed as collateral damage on the altar of some futile and delusional notion that the black market won’t keep flowing to the teenagers after Butler’s destructive laws are brought in.

We are adults who struggled with a bad habit for decades. We took the harms of smoking very, very deadly seriously. We saw loved ones die. We walk around with the damaged bodies from our decades on the ciggies. We found an alternative. We abided by the new 2021 law, got the GP prescription the government told us to get even when nobody needs a prescription to buy a packet of cigs from any servo of supermarket in the land.

And now Mark Butler wants to crush every vape shop in the nation and reduce us to vape hoarders as we panic buy our way through the final months of 2023.

Many of us are poor people, living through Canberra’s inflation and housing affordability nightmare, we were minding our own business, abiding by the 2021 laws, when in 2023, out of nowhere, Mark Butler has forced us to shell out thousands of dollars at short notice and great financial pain as we batten down the hatches and hope he will leave us alone.

There is no habit or comfort that the plebs have a fondness for, that Canberra totalitarians won’t come for. When they are not forcing a rushed to the market vaccine into your body (so concerned are they about ‘long term effects’ of vaping), they are hectoring you about junk food, exercise, alcohol, gambling, smoking, vaping, tanning, driving, recycling, what you can say and what you can’t say.

Australia in the 2020s is already a dismal place to live for many of us. I value my cigarette quitting, I worked hard for it. I’m proud of it. I broke the intergenerational chain of tobacco use in my family and took along some friends and family for the ride.

They are thankful they quit smoking using vaping too. It is a precious and fragile treasure in my life, an investment in my future health. To see Canberra come to rip my vape out of my hands, just showed me they are never going to stop. They hate us.

Mark Butler, you’re not a Health Minister, you’re a health menace who rides roughshod over the delicate cigarette quitting of countless Aussies. You are a disgrace.


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