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AGAINST – Bills — Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Vaping Reforms) Bill 2024; Consideration of Senate Message

Mark Butler

I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

This is incredibly important legislation. I've said that the House and the Senate have had the opportunity this week to do something meaningful and lasting for the health of young Australians, and I genuinely meant that. Vaping has become a very serious public health scourge in this country. Not only is it a health scourge but it is consistently rated as the number one behavioural issue in schools by school communities and by school leaders.

I want to thank the Senate for the way in which they conducted this debate. I particularly want to thank Senator Lambie, Senator Pocock and Senator Jordon Steele-John for their long, constructive discussions with the government, and with me particularly, about the way in which we can make a serious regulatory scheme work. I also want to thank a long list of outside stakeholders for their support here. This is a package of amendments not just from the Commonwealth but a package agreed between all governments. This has been a regular topic of discussion between state, territory and Commonwealth health ministers now for more than 12 months. We have a vaping enforcement working group that is co-chaired by the head of NSW Health and by Commissioner Outram, head of the Australian Border Force, that brings together not just health authorities but policing authorities. This is genuinely an intergovernmental package of reforms. These reforms are Commonwealth legislation, but they will be enforced by state and territory authorities.

I particularly want to thank officers, particularly the legal counsel of the TGA. I want to thank the tobacco branch in our department. Tony Lawler, the head of the TGA, played a direct role in the construction of these reforms. And there's a long list of groups which have fought for better tobacco control in this country for five decades: the Cancer Council; the AMA; the Australian Council on Smoking & Health; the Public Health Association; and a range of academics—in particular, Emily Banks from the ANU, who has been such a strong public advocate, as well as Becky Freeman and many others as well. I want to thank all of them for their support for this package of reforms.

The amendments to the bill that were passed in the Senate very much keep faith with the original intention of our reform. They ensure legitimate access to therapeutic goods is not unduly obstructed while recreational vaping in general retail settings is abolished in this country. If the House accepts these amendments, that abolition will take place from Monday 1 July.

This product was sold to us as a therapeutic good. It was never presented as a recreational product, particularly not one that would be so cynically and transparently marketed to our children. The tragedy of this subterfuge is that it's working. One in six high school kids is vaping; one in four young adults is vaping. We know that vaping in and of itself is unhealthy. Almost every month we are gathering new evidence about the harms that vaping is causing to young lungs and the harms that particularly nicotine addiction is causing to the mental health of young Australians, to their learning behaviours and to their socialisation. Most insidiously, we know this is a gateway to cigarettes, and that was the intention of big tobacco. I'm very confident that in the coming months and years around the world, just as their attitude to smoking control was eventually unmasked—to their shame—we will learn that this was the strategy all along from big tobacco to recruit a new generation to nicotine addiction. We are determined in this government, and I know many members of parliament in this chamber and the other share this determination. We are not going to stand by and let a new generation be recruited to nicotine addiction—not after all of the deaths, dislocation and grief that we have seen for decades and decades because of tobacco.

I strongly commend these amendments to the House. I want to thank everyone who has worked really hard in this building and beyond—in state governments and in the NGO sector in public health groups—for their support of our determination to take this very important public health measure. As I said, parliament doesn't always get an opportunity like this to do something as meaningful and as lasting for the health of the youngest members of our community as we have today. I urge the House to support these amendments.

Zali Steggall

Unfortunately, I must strongly disagree with the minister. These amendments do not, in effect, change the importance and strength of the original bill, which I voted in support of and commended the government for taking such a strong stance on such a scourge that is impacting young people, leading them to be addicted and hooked on nicotine, which leads them to smoking. We know vaping is a strategy of big tobacco. I absolutely welcomed the government's willingness to ban it and to make it incredibly hard to obtain—in particular, for it to be done only through a prescription—to ensure that it was very much limited in how people over 18 could access it. Unfortunately, the Greens, the crossbench and the Senate's amendments have diluted a lot of the effects of the legislation.

My understanding is that we now have a situation where everyone, including people under 18, will be able to have nine items on them per person, and there is no limit per day or on a situation. Essentially, you can still have a situation of a person with a lot of items on them, and there will be no consequence for that, and that can be repeated day after day. In a situation where the minister says we have one in six high school children vaping, what does that mean if they can have nine on their person each day? That is still a system where you are going to see the on-sale of vapes and a black market of vapes. You are allowing too many vapes to be in the hands of children and adults. I would ask the minister: what measures are you going to put in place to reassure parents that they are not still going to see vapes everywhere in the schools? I would ask the Greens party, who have asked for these amendments and pushed for this to happen: how will you assure parents that we're not going see this mass of vapes still for our children, impacting them in their schools?

Now we are in a situation where we're going to see pharmacies essentially take on the role of a tobacconist—those horrendous shops that we've seen pop up all around our communities, as close to schools as they possibly can be, in areas that appeal to children, young people and young adults. We now have a situation where pharmacies are going to be asked to sell behind the counter a product that we know from a health perspective is dangerous—that has a negative impact on people's health. I cannot see how it is a positive development for the government to have caved in to these amendments. I strongly support the bill as it originally stood. I am incredibly disappointed with the crossbench in the Senate and, in particular, the Greens party for having pushed for these amendments rather than supporting a strong ban that genuinely puts the health of children, young people and adults at the heart of the legislation.

I ask the minister, since this is the process for it: what protections and additional measures is the government considering to ensure we don't see that kind of onsale of vapes between children and a black market emerging? What measures will be put in place to ensure, with the sales from behind the counter in pharmacies, that there is the smoking cessation aspect and also the cessation of vaping? What measures will be put in place to ensure people are not addicted to vaping and actually reduce their reliance on vaping?

Sophie Scamps

Firstly, I'd like to thank the government and commend them for the work that they have done to eradicate vaping in the way that they can. There's been so much hard work done behind the scenes from public health agencies and health promotion agencies.

Vaping with single-use vapes was an absolute scourge—it is an absolute scourge, I should say—and one that targeted our children in a way that was extremely cynical, so much so that schools in my electorate have had to install vape detectors in bathrooms because children were leaving classrooms to go and vape. The impact that has had on children's behaviour, their concentration and their ability to learn has been absolutely horrific.

What I would like to say, however, is that I am disappointed at the watering down of what was a really incredible bill. I am disappointed. It is sad because it was, I guess, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to really end the scourge of vapes and the targeting of our children with that. My concern is that the ability for vapes to be bought without a prescription by people over the age of 18—and the ability to buy over nine—will mean that people will go from pharmacy to pharmacy to pharmacy. Just as people doctor shopped to get certain prescription medications, they will be shopping around their pharmacists. They'll be able to get a large amount, and they'll be able to onsell those to their friends. Their 18-year-old friends will be able to sell to the children who are already addicted to nicotine.

We know that nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to mankind. The large majority of children are already addicted to nicotine. When it becomes expensive, having to buy those vapes, they will simply turn to smoking cigarettes. It is a gateway. It leaves the door open for vaping to continue, and it leaves the door open for that move towards cigarettes. It is a cynical ploy by the big tobacco companies who want to start manufacturing these vapes. It is a cynical ploy to continue to get people hooked on nicotine, which is a gateway to smoking.

Although I really support the measures that the government is trying to implement, I'm very disappointed that it's been watered down in this way, because I think it will only leave the door open to more smoking in our young people.

Monique Ryan

I also rise to express disappointment at the watering down of this incredibly important legislation. Members of the crossbench in this House were very supportive of the government bringing on what was a really courageous innovation. It's really unfortunate that it's been necessary for the government to make these concessions in the Senate.

I'd like to make the point that one of the reasons why that has been necessary is that Senators Lambie and Tyrrell, in the Senate, have consistently expressed real concerns about the fact that Medicare services in this country are not sufficient to provide the support that people who want to give up smoking need. For GPs to be able to provide that sort of service, they need to have time, they need to have the relevant training and they need to be able to give people who want to get off cigarettes the support that they need. It's not a simple process. It's not as simple as just writing a script for vapes. What we know is that people can't access GP services in many parts of this country, and, when they do, many people are forced to deal with an out-of-pocket fee that they simply cannot afford. The need to water down this legislation in the way that we've seen in recent weeks reflects a failure of our Medicare services, which is heartbreaking to see because all of us in this place, I think, agree that smoking is a bad thing and that vapes are a bad thing. Almost all of us—I will come to the Nationals in a moment. So it is incredibly disappointing seen this problem with Medicare and its deficiencies, and, as a result of that, the need to water down this legislation.

I'd also make the point that at the moment we're seeing many Australians resorting to online providers of prescriptions, who are in many cases also going on to provide vapes to people who are looking to smoking cessation. I think this is a failure of our regulatory system which also warrants review by the minister. We're not providing best-practice care when people can go online and get a prescription for vapes which is, essentially, sent out by the script provider. That is not a situation where people are receiving best-practice care for smoking cessation.

Finally, I would like to address some concerns that many Australians have about the fact that one of the major political parties in this country continues to receive significant donations from the tobacco lobby—which is the same as the vaping lobby. I would call out the Nationals political party, which is a very bad tail, essentially, wagging the Liberal Party dog in its decision to oppose this legislation, and which has forced the government to deal with the crossbench in the Senate as it has. It's an absolute disgrace when a major political party in this country continues to receive donations from the tobacco and vaping lobby. I think that Australians should continue to consider that and that they should always take it into account every time they think about the National Party and whether or not it's reflecting the best interests of them and of their children.

I'm sorry that I can't support these amendments in this House. I'd love to; I'm very happy to see the vaping legislation go forward, but it's very disappointing that it has had to be watered down in the way that it has.

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 9:47 AM on 2024-06-27
Allegra Spender's vote: No
Total number of "aye" votes: 67
Total number of "no" votes: 10
Total number of abstentions: 74
Related bill: Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Vaping Reforms) Bill 2024

Adapted from information made available by

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