NSW Health vape crackdown is a sham

Posted on September 25, 2023 By Colin

NSW HEALTH launched a crackdown on illegal vapes today and a plan to support young people addicted to vaping. While well intended, it is the wrong approach, is grounded in misinformation and won't work.

Young people should not smoke or vape. We all want to protect children, but this is bad policy based on emotion, moral values and political virtue signalling, and will have predictable and harmful unintended consequences. Below are just some of the issues raised by this announcement.

“A crackdown on illegal vape sellers”

This kneejerk solution simply won’t work. There is a rampant black market controlled by criminal gangs selling illegal Chinese vapes to adults and children. A crackdown will only drive the market and the criminal networks underground. When there is a demand for a product, people will find a way of getting it. More here.

The only workable solution is to legalise and regulate the market. Vapes should be sold as adult consumer products from licensed retail outlets with strict age verification. The NSW Parliament could make these changes. More here.

Furthermore, “taking action on the illegal imports of vapes” is certain to fail, just as it has failed for heroin, cocaine and ice. According to the Chief of the Australian Border Force, the vast majority pass untouched through the border and illegal vapes will continue to flourish.

As Cate Faehrmann MP said recently, "These gangsters will be on Centrelink in six months if you legalised drugs.” What is holding us back?

“support young people who are addicted to vaping"

Recent Australian research has found that less than 2% of non-smoking 14-17-year-old Australians are currently vaping nicotine frequently enough to be at-risk of developing nicotine-dependence. See my blog here.

Nicotine dependence can lead to unpleasant, short-term withdrawal symptoms and cravings. This can be problematic in situations where smoking is not permitted, such as school classrooms.

However, nicotine presents very little health risk to the user and has some beneficial effects. It does not cause cancer or lung disease and only has a minor role in cardiovascular health.

“vaping is a gateway to smoking for young people”

No it isn’t. The gateway theory has been debunked. Vaping is diverting young people away from smoking overall and reducing smoking rates. The fact that kids who vape are ‘3 times more likely to go on to smoke’ does not mean that vaping caused them to smoke. Kids who vape are more likely to take risks generally, such as to smoke, drink alcohol, use illicit drugs and have unsafe sex. Vaping is not the cause.

If vaping is a gateway to smoking for some youth, it is greatly outweighed by a much larger number moving from smoking to vaping. More here.

“There is an epidemic of vaping among young people”

This is false. Recent Australian research has found that less than 3% of 14-17-year-olds vape ‘frequently’ but have never smoked. Most vaping by young people is experimental and short-term and is of little public health importance. Most frequent vaping is by youth who already smoke, and for them vaping is beneficial. More here.

“Increasing harms from vaping”

Adverse effects from vaping are generally mild and serious harms are very rare. Teens being hospitalized for nicotine poisoning have simply puffed too much on a vape and got dizzy, nauseous and perhaps collapsed. No serious harms have been reported.

Overall, the benefits of vaping in young people outweigh the risks at a population level. Most of the benefit comes from diverting young people away from deadly smoking and from helping current smokers to quit.

“Tested devices contained toxic chemicals”

Thirty devices tested at the University of Wollongong had toxic chemicals. This is meaningless without a statement of the dose of those chemicals. There are toxic chemicals in the air we breathe and the water we drink. They are only of concern to health if they are above a minimum threshold. We have known for centuries that “the dose makes the poison”.

“nicotine can cause changes to brain development, impaired learning and memory, and may worsen stress, depression and anxiety”

There is no evidence for these claims. Nicotine has been linked to harmful effects on the brain in animal studies which mostly use chronic, high-dose exposure. However, the extrapolation of these findings to humans is speculative.

Studies of young people who smoked have not found any difference in IQeducational achievement or cognitive abilities in adulthood between those who have smoked in the past and those who have never smoked.

There is some evidence that nicotine may in the short-term improve attention, memory and cognitive function, relieve anxiety and improve mood.

Nicotine is especially beneficial for young people with ADHD, improving attention and brain function.

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