The vape debate – a report from Parliament

Posted on March 30, 2024 By Colin

SPEAKERS IN LAST WEEK'S PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE on the Vaping Reform Bill all agreed that the primary focus of vaping legislation should be to reduce youth use. However, there was very little agreement on anything else. The debate uncovered widespread misinformation about vaping and largely dismissed the huge value of vaping as an adult quitting aid.

Single-minded focus on youth vaping

The focus of the debate was almost exclusively vaping by young people. This concern is legitimate but was disproportionate given the low rate of regular or frequent youth vaping. Only 3.5% of Australian 14-17-year-olds vape daily. Most youth vaping is infrequent and transient and is of little public health importance. Half of those who vape do so only once or twice.  MPs seemed unaware that vaping is diverting young people away from deadly smoking and reducing smoking overall. Only 0.9% of 14-17-year-olds smoke daily.

Concerns about the harm to youth from vaping were also greatly exaggerated. Youth vaping is far from being “An unparalleled, unprecedented public health crisis affecting the young people of Australia”, as claimed by Dr Monique Ryan (Ind). Our recent Evidence Review concluded, "Youth vaping carries relatively minor health risks". Vaping is one of the least risky risk behaviour that teens adopt, compared to smoking, binge drinking, and illicit drugs.

On the other hand, the substantial contribution of vaping in decreasing smoking among adults was disregarded. Zaneta Mascarenhas (ALP) and Dan Repacholi (ALP) even maintained that vaping “products threaten to undo much of the progress that we have made” in tobacco control. In fact, they are having the opposite effect ie accelerating the decline of smoking. As Pat Conaghan (NP) noted, “The countries that have made vapes more difficult to access than cigarettes have seen a considerably slower smoking quit rate than the other countries”.

Some MPs even claimed that vaping was not an effective quitting aid (it is actually the most effective and most popular quitting aid). “Vaping is not helping people in our community get off smoking” said Louise Miller-Frost (ALP). Dr Mike Freelander (ALP) claimed that there was no evidence that vapes are effective quitting aids and that they minimise harm.

Widespread misinformation

The level of misinformation from our elected representatives on this subject was appalling.

Labor MPs mostly repeated the talking points about youth vaping from Mark Butler, falsely claiming that vaping is a gateway to smoking, that smoking rates are rising in the under 25s (they are falling rapidly), and that vaping is creating a whole new generation of nicotine addicts (only 3% of teens may be nicotine-dependent).

Several MPs including Dr Mike Freelander (ALP) and Tanya Plibersek (ALP) falsely claimed that vaping kills (there has never been a confirmed death from vaping nicotine anywhere). “Their use as a smoking deterrent simply results in swapping one damaging habit for another” said Zoe Daniel (Ind), apparently not realizing that vaping is a valid form of harm reduction and that switching leads to a huge reduction in risk.

Dr David Gillespie (NP) incorrectly linked nicotine vaping with the deadly lung disease, EVALI, which was due to vaping contaminated, black market cannabis vapes. Many asserted that vaping harms the adolescent brain, a claim for which there is no human evidence.

Labelling vapes as a tobacco industry ploy was another popular but incorrect claim. “Make no mistake; it is big tobacco that is behind the vaping industry”, said Zali Steggall (Ind). Actually it's not.

Many listed the chemicals in vapour without seeming to understand that “the dose makes the poison”. Most chemicals in vapour are at very low doses and are below the threshold of harm.

Where is the genie?

There was disagreement about the location of the genie. Most Coalition and some independent MPs agreed with Dr David Gillespie (NP) that “The genie really is out of the bottle, and it is pretty much impossible to put it back in”.

However, ALP speakers seemed convinced that it was not too late. “This legislation to curb vaping is our opportunity to … put the genie back in the bottle” said Louise Miller-Frost (ALP).

Failure of the current model

Speakers from the Coalition argued that the current prohibition model of regulation has failed and that change is needed. Youth vaping has escalated, vapers have rejected the prescription model and criminal gangs control the market.

Pat Conaghan (NP) pointed out that “more than 1.5 million people in this country are currently purchasing unregulated vapes via the black market…run by organised crime syndicates”. “We've seen serious escalations of turf wars from organised crime groups, including personal violence and firebombings of tobacconist stores”.

David Littleproud (NP) said “History has shown for generations that prohibition doesn't work, particularly when you've got a marketplace that has exploded.” “If we keep doing the same thing we will get the same outcomes” said Dr David Gillespie (NP).

The Liberals agreed. Dr Anne Webster (Lib) said, “The government's prescription model is failing, and they are simply doubling down and banning vaping harder.” We “want this bill thoroughly examined by a Senate committee, and we will be moving to do just that” she said.

Amendment by the Nationals

In response to the failings of the current approach, Pat Conaghan (NP) proposed the following amendment to the Bill on behalf of the Nationals

"That the House

The way forward

The Nationals support “regulation and taxing of government-approved nicotine vapes following the same general principles as alcohol and cigarette sales. That includes licensed retail outlets, supply chains, and strict age verification” according to Michael McCormack (NP). Anyone who thinks we can control this by policing and Border activity “are just seriously kidding themselves” he said.

David Littleproud agreed. “To think that we're going to be able to crack down and stop all this at the border is naive. It won't happen”. Furthermore, “A regulated model will work and gives us a better chance at protecting children.”

This model is found “across the EU, including in Sweden, and in other comparable western countries, such as the UK, the USA, Canada and New Zealand” said Pat Conaghan.

However ALP speakers were convinced that simply getting tougher and banning harder to bring things under control. They maintained that increased border control and policing would constrain the illicit market, and that vapers would suddenly start getting prescriptions. How this will happen remains to be seen. Market research has found that vapers will still refuse to get prescriptions if further restrictions are introduced.

Helen Haines (Ind) believes that “With this bill adopted, the only vapes available legally in this country from 1 July would be those prescribed by medical practitioners and dispensed by pharmacies”. If only it was that simple. Most criminologists would not agree with her.

The reality is that “Law enforcement and border control efforts have minimal long-term impact on the supply of drugs in the community”, according to a 2023 report on vaping by Australian health consultancy group, 360Edge.

Senate Inquiry

The future of this legislation will be decided by a Senate Inquiry. Submissions are being accepted to this Inquiry until 12 April and it will report on 8 May. Further information is available here.

The committee must decide what is the best regulatory method for Australia: to continue with the failed prohibition model or to move to an adult consumer model and regulate vapes like cigarettes. Submissions should focus on that issue.


Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Vaping Reforms) Bill 2024


Ley, McBride, Conaghan

Mascarenhas, Littleproud, Neumann, Daniel, Repacholi, Haines

Haines, Miller-Frost, Gillespie, Fernando, Joyce, Freelander, Webster, Templeman, Sharkie, Clare, Ryan, Plibersek, McCormack, Chesters, Steggall


Amendment to the motion by Mr Pat Conaghan MP, 27 March 2024

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