JOURNALIST: You’ve heard reports that as much as 50 children under the age of four in one state alone have been caught with nicotine in their system. What does that say about the state of vaping in Australia?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Well, it says it's exploded, and it's a public health issue that needs strong action. There just hasn't been that action over the last few years. But all of the Health Ministers in the country - Labor, Liberal alike, states and territories and the Commonwealth, have indicated they're determined to stamp out this public health menace. The really important thing to point out is that vaping is dangerous in and of itself, ingesting all of those chemicals into your lungs is dangerous for your health, it causes very serious lung disease. But what we also know is this is a pathway back to cigarettes, having taken all of the action we've taken in recent decades to bring cigarette smoking rates down, this is a pathway back to cigarettes - research shows that. We're determined to make sure we don't create a new generation of nicotine addicts.
JOURNALIST: What’s some of the action you're looking at?
BUTLER: Well, the TGA, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, today will publish its report, we asked them to undertake a broad consultation over the course of summer. They received thousands of submissions which will also be published, and that will put out a range of options from border controls, to the way in which these things are marketed, banning flavours, banning colours, a whole range of options which Health Ministers can then start to consider and come up with a package of reforms.
JOURNALIST: At the moment, you've got black market vapes available from common stores, news agencies for example, if you're going to not bring in some kind of legalised alternative, these black market vapes - we don't know what they contain. What kind of pathway forward is there for potential testing of these vapes? Or are we just going to ignore that alternative there?
BUTLER: And this is the point about the problem we have, these are all being sold illegally. Journalists' groups, the TGA itself, we've all conducted tests where we go into stores and ask for vapes and then take them back into a laboratory and overwhelmingly and illegally, they contain nicotine. The only legal way to sell a nicotine vape in Australia is through a prescription provided by a doctor to a pharmacy. Yet convenience stores, petrol stations routinely are selling nicotine vapes pretending that they don't have nicotine in them, and more insidiously, selling them to children. That's why we've got such a problem in this country and state Health Ministers - as much as I - are determined to take action to stamp this out. Now, that's not going to require just action on the part of states or just action on the part of the Commonwealth. We are going to have to work together on this.
JOURNALIST: And what's your message to some of the MPs in Parliament that have been quite vocal for legalising and making vapes more widely accessible as a harm reduction measure?
BUTLER: Well, my message is you're wrong. And my message is that I'm not going to stand for that. We are not as a government going to normalise this public health menace. And it's no coincidence, it's no accident that the people driving that agenda are tobacco industry lobbyists because they know this is a pathway back to cigarettes, they know this is a pathway around the strong action we've taken in recent decades to drive down smoking rates. Research only published this week by the ATU, the Australian National University, confirms that you are three times more likely to take up smoking if you vape than if you don't. And that's why the tobacco industry is such a supporter of vaping. It's a pathway back, it's a way of creating a new generation of nicotine addicts.