Vaping prohibition has failed, experts say

Posted on April 29, 2024 By Colin

HARSH GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS on vaping products amount to prohibition and have created "an extraordinarily large, uncontrollable, and dangerous black market". Attempts to restrict the market further will almost certainly fail according to leading experts in criminology and law enforcement, Dr James Martin and Mr Rohan Pike.

Dr Martin is a Deakin University criminologist, with special expertise in illicit markets and criminal supply networks. Rohan Pike is a law enforcement consultant who established the first Tobacco Strike Team which later expanded into becoming the Illicit Tobacco Task Force. Both have made submissions to the Senate Inquiry into Vaping (see below).

This IS prohibition

According to Dr Martin, “the current restrictions on vaping amount to prohibition”. Mr Pike calls it “de-facto prohibition”

The prescription model has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of people who vape. However, some anti-vaping advocates still argue that vaping products are not prohibited because you can legally access them with a prescription. Dr Martin says this argument is flawed.

An alcohol prescription for Winston Churchill from the US Prohibition period

“Alcohol was available via medical prescription during the United States’ failed experiment with alcohol prohibition. However, the availability of medical prescriptions did not make alcohol any less prohibited for the vast majority of consumers for whom the black market represented a more easily accessible, affordable, and attractive alternative.”

Booming black market

Dr Martin says “government restrictions on vaping products have resulted in a large and growing domestic black market” which is now the second largest illegal drug market in the country (after cannabis).

"The second largest illegal drug market in Australia"

This highly lucrative market has attracted organised crime groups who specialise in the trafficking and distribution of illegal goods. This has led to “major levels of criminal violence and intimidation, with dozens of firebombings and several homicides associated with the sale of illicit vaping and tobacco products over the past 12 months” Dr Martin wrote.

However, in New Zealand where vapes are sold as adult consumer products from retail outlets, there is very little evidence of an illicit vape market (ASHNZ Senate submission 106). "There is little incentive to operate a supply chain at any commercially viable scale due to effective competition from the legal marketplace".

A crack-down won’t work

Both experts agree that further law enforcement interventions have little chance of significantly reducing the supply of illegal vapes

“This is because when demand for an illicit good is high, as is the case with non-prescription vapes in Australia, it is not possible for law enforcement interventions to be mounted at such a scale as to sufficiently undermine the profitability of groups engaged in supply” Dr Martin explained.

“The Australian Border Force is already stretched well beyond capacity, with the vast majority of illegal drugs sent to Australia successfully making it past border controls. The Australian Federal Police and state law enforcement agencies have a long list of more pressing crime problems to prioritise” Dr Martin said.

Dr Martin further explained, “Even when criminal networks can be disrupted, the promise of extraordinary profits mean that there are always new criminal actors ready to step in and supply the market”.

Mr Pike agrees. He said “It would be a fallacy to assume additional resources provided to the Australian Border Force and the Therapeutic Goods Administration will have a significant effect on the availability of vapes in this country”.

Other expert groups agree


The prescription model amounts to prohibition and has predictably failed. As Mr Pike said, further restriction in the proposed legislation will only "fuel a black market that creates more harm than good".

The solution is to establish a legal, regulated market with vapes sold as adult consumer products from licensed retail outlets with strict age verification, like cigarettes and alcohol. A regulated market will ensure a supply of safe, regulated products, reduce access for young people, allow legal access for adult smokers to help them quit and generate tax revenue. The only losers from this model will be the criminal gangs.

We need to learn from history and not make the same mistakes all over again.


Dr James Martin. Senate submission 25

Mr Rohan Pike. Senate submission 24

Mendelsohn CP, Wodak A, Martin J, Richter R, Pike R. Briefing on the Prohibition of Vaping and Organised Crime. 12 February 2024

Wodak A. The abject failure of drug prohibition. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology. 2014

Werb D. Effect of drug law enforcement on drug market violence A systematic review. Int J Drug Policy 2011

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