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Australia to ban import of disposable e-cigarettes next year

Vapes on sale in a store in Melbourne
Mark Butler, the Australian health minister, says vaping has created 'a whole new generation of nicotine dependency' - Sandra Sanders/Reuters

Australia will ban the import of disposable e-cigarettes next year under a plan to become the first country to make all vaping illegal without a prescription.

Mark Butler, the Australian health minister, has resisted calls to follow New Zealand (before its reversal) and Britain in phasing out all cigarette sales but has vowed to tackle vaping, which he blames for creating “a whole new generation of nicotine dependency”.

It has been illegal since 2021 for any Australian to purchase or import vapes containing nicotine without a doctor’s prescription, but that has only fuelled a dangerous black market while failing to stop young people taking up the smoking habit.

“Vaping was sold to governments and communities around the world as a therapeutic product to help long-term smokers quit,” Mr Butler said on Tuesday.

“It was not sold as a recreational product, especially not one targeted to our kids, but that is what it has become.”

Additional laws to be introduced next year will limit flavours, as well as forcing companies to make packaging appear “pharmaceutical” rather than include colourful marketing.

Bans on advertising and limits on nicotine concentration will also be enforced.

Britain ‘exploring new duty on vapes’

The impact of the tougher laws, the first phase of which will begin on Jan 1, is expected to be closely watched by policymakers in Britain as Rishi Sunak’s administration faces pressure to find ways to prevent young Britons vaping.

Government documents released last week in Britain confirmed that ministers are “exploring a new duty on vapes” as part of legislation for a phased ban on cigarette sales.

In the UK, vape use was highest in people aged 16 to 24 years in 2022 with 15.5 per cent vaping last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. In Australia, the Cancer Council found that 14 per cent of children as young as 14 are vapers.

The chief of Australia’s Border Force warned the country’s government earlier this year that officials would find it difficult to detect vaping products – which mostly come from China – at airports and shipping docks.

Michael Outram said that his team was currently only picking up a quarter of illicit drugs arriving on Australian shores.

Critics of the ban have also said it could further fuel a black market by making products more lucrative, amid police fears that organised crime groups are in the middle of a turf war for control of cigarette and vaping supplies.

‘Ruthless’ gangs intimidating retailers

In the state of Victoria, police have linked 30 cases of firebombing and gang murders this year to Australia’s illicit tobacco and vape black market.

Detectives are also examining links between the arson attacks and the murder of one of Australia’s most notorious gangsters, Mohammed “Afghan Ali” Akbar Keshtiar, in a Melbourne street.

Theo Foukkare, the chief executive of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores, warned his country’s government last month that “ruthless” gangs were using “standover tactics” to intimidate retailers.

“Legitimate businesses are being targeted for selling legal tobacco on the turf of crime gangs that peddle illegal tobacco and vapes to anyone who will buy them, including children,” Mr Foukkare wrote in a letter to Clare O’Neil, the Australian home affairs minister.

Mr Butler said that the Australian government was aware of the limitations of policing the new laws.

“Like all other illegal drugs, there will no doubt be some vapes that get into the country,” he said.

“But they will no longer be easy for schoolchildren, our most vulnerable and impressionable members of society, to get their hands on them.”

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