HOST, KATIE WOOLF: Earlier this month the federal government announced sweeping changes to vaping, particularly targeting young people with strong regulation and enforcement of e-cigarettes, including new controls on their importation, their contents, as well as their packaging. It's understood the Government's going to be working with states and territories to really put a stop to black market sales, including the importation of nicotine vapes, banning disposable devices and restricting those flavours. Now, joining me on the line to shed some further light on this situation is the federal Health Minister Mark Butler. Good morning to you, Minister.
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Good morning, Katie. I can tell you, it’s a lot colder down here in Canberra than I suspect it is up your way.
WOOLF: I did wonder that as I was reading out those temperatures in the weather and knew that you're listening from Canberra and thought “I know where I'd rather be, Minister.”
BUTLER: Me too!
WOOLF: Obviously quite a raft of changes when it comes to vaping. Can you talk us through these changes that have been announced?
BUTLER: Just stepping back one second, this is a relatively new product and it was sold to governments around the world and communities, for that matter, as a therapeutic product that was supposed to help long term smokers kick the habit. It was supposed to be something like Nicorette and things like that. But it's become a recreational product and particularly for young people. So, 1 in 4 young people have vaped but only 1 in 70 people my age - I am in my 50s - only 1 in 70 people have vaped. It's very much a product that the industry is targeting at young people and it's rife in our schools, as your listeners would know. When we did a consultation over the summer, school communities, teachers, school principals and parents groups tell us time and time again: this is now the number one behavioural issue schools are facing. Not just high schools, but primary schools are facing. We are determined as a group of health ministers - this wasn't just me as the federal Health Minister, but all of the Health Ministers including Natasha Fyles your Health Minister and Chief Minister in the Territory - are determined to take action to stop the tobacco industry creating a new generation of nicotine addicts because that's what this is doing.
WOOLF: I think that's a concern that a lot of parents have got, you know, I've got school-aged children. And you're spot-on. It's a real issue, whether your kids are sort of that middle school, high school or primary school. It's something that they are all grappling with. Are we going to see vaping soon become like cigarettes with plain packaging and those health warnings?
BUTLER: We are. At the moment these things are being sold, deliberately targeted to not just teenagers but to young children so you see them with pink unicorns on them, they’re cherry flavoured, they’re bubble gum flavoured. I mean, this is not a product being sold to adults. This is deliberately being marketed to children. The shops are being deliberately set up down the road from schools, because they know that is their target market. We’re determined to stamp this out. Not only is it a pathway into smoking - even though we were sold this product as a pathway out of smoking - it is a pathway into smoking. Young vapers are three times as likely to take up cigarettes as non-vapers. We know that the only group in the community now where smoking rates are increasing are young Australians and that, in my view, is deliberately connected to vapes.
WOOLF: So when these new regulations, specifically that ban on juices and disposable vapes, when are they going to take effect?
BUTLER: We now need to sit down with state and territory governments and set up a comprehensive enforcement framework. We have said we will do everything we can to stop these things at the border and the problem is we've had open borders for vapes. The former government wasn't able to put in border controls. Greg Hunt, the former Minister for Health, to his credit, wanted to do that but he got rolled in his party room. So for some years now we have effectively had open borders, these things have been flooding in from overseas. As the Commonwealth, we have control of our borders. We've got to stop that, as much as we possibly can. But state and territory governments then need to put some resources into policing the sale of these things. Four out of five young people have told us in research, or told independent researchers, that vapes are easy to get. They can get them at the convenience stores, service stations and a whole bunch of other places besides. We've got to shut that down. These are too easy to get and they're causing very, very serious health problems for our youngest people.
WOOLF: Minister, like I said before, I'm a parent of two young people so I see these changes as being a positive thing, but I also, I actually know quite a few young adults who do vape and they're not doing anything illegal. So, you know, how do you juggle this, in the sense that you've got people that are vaping that don't really want to smoke cigarettes and they're not doing anything illegal. They're not doing the wrong thing?
BUTLER: That's right. We're not targeting the users, we're targeting the vendors. I go back to my original point: we were sold this product as a pathway out of smoking and instead it's now being sold by the industry as a recreational product. It is doing very serious damage to people. Respiratory physicians, the people who know the most about lungs, tell us there is no safe amount of chemical to ingest in your lungs but these things have 200 chemicals in them, including the same chemicals that go to make weed killer, nail polish remover and things like that. This is being sold as something like a safe product. It simply isn't. Not only is it a pathway into smoking, but in and of itself, ingesting all of those chemicals into your lungs is just a bad thing. We know that through bitter, bitter experience through smoking, through asbestos, through silica products that are causing silicosis across the country, and things like that. Now Katie, we've got a division on in the Parliament which I am going to have to go into. I'm really sorry, but it's been terrific to talk to you.
WOOLF: Ok, no worries at all. Hopefully we'll be able to catch up with you again soon to try and get some further info on this vaping situation. Minister, thanks for your time.
BUTLER: Would love to do that. Enjoy the hot weather up there, I'm very jealous! Thank you.