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ABSTAINED – Bills — Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Vaping Reforms) Bill 2024; Second Reading

Michelle Ananda-Rajah

Vaping is a pox upon our house—this House and our entire nation. Currently in Australia there are 1.7 million people who regularly vape, and amongst high school students that number is one in six.

Why is vaping so problematic? It's problematic for many reasons. One is that vaping is a gateway drug to nicotine addiction. We know that people who vape on a regular basis are three times as likely to go on to become smokers, and that's a huge problem, because smoking and tobacco use are the No. 1 risk factor for death in Australia. This is based on evidence tabled by the National Tobacco Strategy last year. Tobacco use is the No. 1 cause of death, followed by a range of other risk factors. It's higher than a poor diet, it's higher than physical inactivity, it's higher than alcohol use and it's higher than illicit drugs. At the moment in Australia, smoking prevalence is around 11 to 12 per cent. We want to drive those rates down, and the National Tobacco Strategy discusses that. We are aiming to drive smoking rates down to 10 per cent or less by 2025 and to five per cent or less by 2030. But it's not going to be achievable unless we tackle the scourge of vaping.

Vapes were originally sold as a therapeutic device to help smokers get off the cigarettes. In fact, the reverse has occurred. These devices were so poorly regulated that big tobacco essentially used them as a marketing tool to hook people and turn them into nicotine addicts. They have interesting flavours—a whole variety of flavours, including strawberry. They look like highlighter pens or USBs. The vaping stores have cropped up throughout our streets and suburbs, and most of them are within 50 metres of a school. In fact, big tobacco is aiming to turn a young generation of Australians into nicotine addicts, essentially.

Vapes themselves, however, are not just full of nicotine, they are actually a chemical cocktail. We don't actually know what is in these substances, but we have got evidence that they can cause severe lung injury. There is a condition called EVALI, e-cigarette and vaping acute lung injury, which has been well described in medical literature. It shows that vapes are associated with severe lung injury, which can result in intubation and ventilation in intensive care, as well as lung transplantation for those patients who are lucky enough to get access to lung transplants. There is widespread community concern around this issue. In fact, reforms that we've already tabled with the banning of the importation of vapes in January of this year have been widely supported by the community and by a range of public health experts.

Our second tranche of reforms, which is the substance of this bill, will aim to ban the sale and marketing of vapes in the streets and suburbs of our communities. This approach has been endorsed by a range of organisations, including peak medical groups such as the AMA and the RACGP, as well as others. The state and territory health ministers have also endorsed this legislation, so we would urge support from everyone in this House.

But it's not just the peak groups, ordinary Australians arealso very interested and animated by this issue. My own constituents have stated on a local Facebook group: 'As a paediatrician and a parent of teens, I have significant concerns about the impact of vapes. Nicotine and up to 200 other toxic chemicals contained in vapes impact on the current physical and mental health of young people. We see this firsthand in our interactions and consultations with young people. I also have significant concern about the long-term impacts and effects of vaping. If we wait for long-term data, it will be too late. We need to act now. Indeed, there is evidence that vaping on a regular basis has an adverse impact on adolescent brain growth. We also know that it has an adverse effect on pregnancy outcomes and it can contribute to accelerated cardiovascular and respiratory disease.'

Another constituent said: 'Sensible regulation is a strong, positive move towards ending the youth vaping crisis. Regulating retail sales of nicotine vaping products, including strict age verification requirements, will stop the black market in its tracks and keep dodgy products out of the hands of children.' And that's the message that we are hearing loud and clear: the community want action and we are indeed delivering on that.

The legislation that we are tabling will introduce offences and civil penalty provisions designed to protect Australians, particularly young people, from the harms associated with illicit vapes. This will be achieved by banning the importation of vapes, which was done back in January of this year, as well as the domestic manufacture, supply, commercial possession and marketing of non-therapeutic and disposable single vapes. All vaping advertising on social media or on retail websites and the promotion of vaping goods by influencers on social media will also be banned. Those flashing lights signalling 'vapes sold here' that you drive or walk past in our streets will be gone. They will be made unlawful.

We're also enhancing the quality and safety standards associated with the manufacture of vapes. These commenced back in March of this year. We have limited the flavours to mint, menthol or tobacco, and we are also foreshadowing other standards, such as the requirement to limit the maximum amount of nicotine in the vape, as well as plain pharmaceutical packaging, and very clear labelling. In other words, we are dialling down the flashing lights and dialling down the marketing so that these devices just simply do not look enticing enough to hook people.

The important message here is that we're not taking a punitive approach to the individual. We're not out to target the individual, but we are certainly going for big tobacco. That is why we introduced the ban on the importation of vapes back in January of this year. Since that ban came through, we have seized 1.5 million vapes—1.5 million. It is huge. That's a mountain of vapes. That's 1.5 million fewer vapes in the hands of Australians, including children. We're trying to choke off the supply, but we need to do more.

The issue now, of course, is that we have a group of Australians who are essentially dependent on nicotine. I think it's important to talk a little bit about the kinds of problems that these people may encounter as access to vapes diminishes. Nicotine withdrawal is well described. It's something that I had to deal with in my medical practice in hospital, and it can manifest in many ways. People rarely say that they are withdrawing from nicotine or smokes; they just don't say it. Instead, it manifests as irritability, problems with concentration, difficulty sleeping and, of course, finally aggression. These manifestations can occur not only in adults but also in children. I think it's important, particularly for parents, as well as for schools, teachers and principals, to be aware that there may be children in their midst who are not disclosing that they are regular vapers but who will manifest problems with nicotine withdrawal.

We are committing close to $30 million towards smoking cessation services. That includes bolstering the Quitline. It is also important to understand that access to nicotine replacement therapy is widely available. Nicotine patches, gums and sprays can be purchased over the counter at pharmacies and sometimes even at supermarkets. They are widely available, and they can be used by anyone over the age of 12, depending on the product labelling. But further support is also needed, sometimes with counselling and with psychotherapy. My advice to parents and to persons in authority, like schoolteachers and principals, is to flag these issues early with your organisation. I advise parents to take their children, particularly, to their local doctor for advice on how to manage nicotine withdrawal. GPs are well versed in doing this work. They are professionals. They've done it for decades, fighting the fight against big tobacco.

The Commonwealth has also committed an additional $25 million to the Australian Border Force and $56 million to the Therapeutic Goods Administration over the next two years to enforce this work. A National Vaping Working Group was formed in November 2023, comprising the Commonwealth, state and territory health and police departments, the AFP and Australian Border Force. It's really important that this work continues in a very collaborative fashion, because obviously the Commonwealth can create the legislation but it needs to be operationalised, and big tobacco are sneaky. These illicit operators will try to find any weakness in order to ply their trade. We need to ensure that all our agencies in our state and federal governments, as well as other groups, are working collaboratively, and that is something we are supporting with this funding.

Finally, I would also like to say that, once upon a time, Australia led the world when it came to tobacco control and smoking cessation. Indeed, it was a Labor government, the Rudd and Gillard governments, and a Labor health minister, Nicola Roxon, who took on big tobacco, with plain packaging. We are now picking up that baton. It is commendable that this minister, Minister Mark Butler, is willing to take on this scourge and do something about it. I commend this bill to the House.

Long debate text truncated.

Summary

Date and time: 1:20 PM on 2024-05-15
Allegra Spender's vote: Abstained
Total number of "aye" votes: 55
Total number of "no" votes: 84
Total number of abstentions: 12
Related bill: Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Vaping Reforms) Bill 2024

Adapted from information made available by theyvoteforyou.org.au

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