‘Harmful and addicting youth’: Vaping crackdown flagged in national report

‘Harmful and addicting youth’: Vaping crackdown flagged in national report

Brightly coloured vaping products with flavours like bubble gum and fairy floss that claim to be nicotine-free could be banned in a national crackdown as new research finds e-cigarettes are “harmful and addicting youth”.

But any move to restrict e-cigarettes may face fierce resistance from a group of pro-vaping Coalition backbench MPs, who fought against Health Minister Greg Hunt’s move to ban liquid nicotine imports without a prescription.

The federal health department is finalising the National Tobacco Strategy 2022-2030 after circulating a draft that proposes restrictions on “the marketing, availability and use of all e-cigarette components in Australia, regardless of their nicotine content”.

The Australian National University will on Thursday publish research commissioned by the department that found vaping “is causing addiction in a new generation of users” and makes young people three times more likely to take up cigarette smoking.

“Vapes deliver hundreds of chemicals – some of them known to be toxic,” lead author Professor Emily Banks from the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health said.

“Nicotine use in children and adolescents can lead to lifelong addiction issues as well as difficulties in concentration and learning.”

The major review found the use of nicotine e-cigarettes increased the risk of adverse health outcomes, particularly in youth, including addiction, poisoning, seizures, trauma and burns and lung injury.

For the past six months, it has been illegal to import nicotine liquid without a GP prescription as a smoking cessation aid, but vaping products – often claiming to be nicotine-free even though they contain the drug – can be easily sourced online and in retail shops.

The Cancer Council is seeking a ban on these products, which it says “are blatantly being marketed towards young people” with bright colours and flavours such as bubble gum or fairy floss.

Adjunct Professor John Skerritt, deputy secretary of the department’s health products regulation group, said the uptake of vaping among young Australians was worrying.

“Our concern with vaping is more that it’s being used and promoted as a new addiction for people who aren’t currently smoking,” Professor Skerritt told a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday.

“There are people illegally importing the products.”

The Cancer Council’s public health committee chair, Anita Dessaix, said governments “are not doing enough to try and stop these products landing into the hands of young people” and must close loopholes allowing them to be sold, saying purportedly nicotine-free vapes were “acting like a Trojan horse”.

“Every week we’re hearing growing community concern about e-cigarettes in schools, the health harms and the risks of smoking uptake among young people,” she said. “A public health crisis is unfolding before our eyes.”

Ms Dessaix said Border Force must “enforce the laws that currently exist to make sure that the only products that are coming into Australia are under a valid doctor’s prescription.”

The ANU report found early warning signs of adverse effects of e-cigarettes on cardiovascular health markers, including blood pressure and heart rate, and lung function, while noting that the potential of vaping to cause cancer over the long term remained unknown.

More than 2 million Australians have used e-cigarettes, which are more common among young people, especially males, and most do not use them to try to quit smoking.

The report found 53 per cent of current e-cigarette use in Australia is by people who also smoke, 31.5 per cent is by past smokers and 15.5 per cent is by people who have never smoked.

It found “limited evidence” for nicotine e-cigarettes’ use as a smoking cessation aid, Professor Banks said, with most people who quit going cold turkey.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Karen Price said the national tobacco strategy should also set out clear restrictions on lobbying, “which should encompass all nicotine-containing products” and tackle social media marketing on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram.

Pro-vaping advocates are ramping up their campaign for nicotine e-cigarettes to be treated the same as ordinary consumer products ahead of the federal election, with Legalise Vaping Australia recently sending its lobbyists to meet with politicians in Parliament House.

“Australian politicians who recognise the public health potential of vaping will be rewarded with votes, yet most remain too scared to promote the world’s most effective smoking cessation tool,” the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates said in a press release on Wednesday.

Liberal senator Eric Abetz, who was part of the 2020 backbench revolt, said the government could expect internal resistance to any measures seeking to restrict the use of e-cigarettes by smokers who wanted to quit.

“A strong body of opinion, based on research and within the community at large, believes that the current restrictions are, in fact, counterproductive to the health of the individuals involved,” Senator Abetz told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“It is quite bizarre that something which is known to be carcinogenic, cigarettes, can be bought without any prescription … at a petrol station, supermarket etc, but not vaping, which is so much less bad.”

The ban on liquid nicotine imports without a prescription, a signature policy of Mr Hunt planned to begin in July 2020, was delayed until October 2021 after backbench objections and a Therapeutic Goods Administration review, while a plan to ban vaping devices was abandoned.

A federal health department spokesman said the Australian government “continues to take a precautionary approach to e-cigarettes … due to the limited evidence regarding effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool”.

Growing evidence raised “concerns about direct health harms associated with e‑cigarette use; concurrent use of e‑cigarettes with tobacco products; and the potential for e‑cigarette use to lead to nicotine addiction and tobacco use, particularly among youth”, the spokesman said.

Source: The Sydney Horney Herald