Television interview with Minister Butler and Bridget Brennan, ABC News Breakfast - 21 March 2024

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Bridget Brennan on world leading vaping legislation being introduced to parliament.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: But first, the government is set to legislate a ban on vapes outlawing the importation, manufacture, supply and commercial possession of single use and non-therapeutic vapes.
BRIDGET BRENNAN, HOST: It's part of a major crackdown flagged by the Health Minister, Mark Butler. And he joins us now from Parliament House. Good morning to you. Minister, tell us about these new changes to ensure that especially young children aren't vaping at the levels that we're seeing.
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: This is a huge chance for the Parliament to do something really meaningful and lasting for the health of young people. When these products were first brought to Australia, and to other countries around the world for that matter, they were sold by the tobacco industry as a therapeutic product to help hardened smokers kick the habit after decades of smoking. They were not sold as a recreational product, particularly one targeted and marketed towards our kids, but that is what they have become. You just have to look at the products - they're brightly coloured, they're bubble gum flavoured, they're often disguised as highlighter pens or USBs for kids to be able to hide in their pencil cases. And you also have to look at where vape stores have set up, nine out of ten of them are within walking distance of schools. So, we know now, 5 or 6 years into this awful experiment, that this is nothing more or less than an insidious device by Big Tobacco to recruit a new generation to nicotine addiction. And tragically, it's working.
BRENNAN: So under what circumstances will people be able to get a vape with a prescription?
BUTLER: We’re going to return this thing to what was the original proposition and that is a therapeutic good. It will be available on prescription by a doctor or a nurse practitioner in a pharmacy to help people with smoking cessation. That's what we were told this product was about, it wasn't about hooking a new generation of kids to nicotine addiction and being sold as a recreational good. We're returning this to what the original purpose was: a genuine therapeutic product. And that will be the only way in which people will be able to access that. For people seeking to supply and sell these products in a recreational market, particularly targeted to kids, there will be very, very significant offences: imprisonment of up to seven years, fines of up to $2.2 million. Because we're serious about this, we're serious about stamping out one of the most significant public health menaces facing our kids right now. And the number one behavioural issue school communities and school leaders report to us.
BRENNAN: Well, it seems there is, though, some debate among public health experts, some who are concerned this would fuel a black market and that we really don't have the resources in law enforcement to be dealing with that. There's already are some issues with a black market emerging here in Melbourne. Is that concerning and how will you manage that?
BUTLER: I think the best time to have done this would have been five years ago, frankly. But the second best time to do it is now. I can't think of a public health group that has not supported the measures I'm introducing to Parliament today. Frankly, the only groups that are seeking to raise the white flag and encourage parliamentarians simply to accept this as now a part of Australian life are those who are profiting from it: Big Tobacco and tobacco retailers.
BRENNAN: Are you looking at further legislation on smoking? Because I guess there is concern that people who are vaping now and can't get a hold of a vape may return to smoking or take up smoking as well. And that's something we really need to lower in Australia – our smoking rates.
BUTLER: Obviously we're very concerned about that risk. And late last year, just before Parliament rose before Christmas, we passed new landmark legislation to introduce new controls on traditional tobacco products, particularly cigarettes and loose leaf tobacco, as well as starting to lift the price again. So, we've consulted very closely with tobacco control experts, with public health groups, with doctors’ groups about these measures over a long period of time. We've had hundreds and hundreds of submissions, these have been deeply thought through these reforms. And you're starting to see around the world other governments, including conservative governments, start to crack down on this market. New Zealand announced this week a crackdown on disposable vapes of the type we put in place on the 1st of January. The UK Parliament this week will be voting on a similar ban on disposable vapes. I think around the world we're starting to realise the deep deception that Big Tobacco has wrought on global communities and our young people are paying the price for that.
BRENNAN: Minister, have you looked at what New Zealand has done? It’s gone with a very ambitious anti-smoking policy, regulation and legislation to ensure Big Tobacco isn't taking hold into the future. Are you looking at some of the reforms New Zealand has taken up?
BUTLER: We've looked at reforms in New Zealand, in UK, in Canada, other countries that, frankly, have been leading the world over the last several years. We used to be a world leader. Ten years ago, we were regarded as the world leader, and we slipped to the back of the pack. I think the legislation that we passed before Christmas, which we worked very closely with tobacco control experts on, is now genuinely a world leading package of laws to see those tobacco rates continue to slide. They're down to about 10% of adults now smoking on a daily basis. We want them to drop further, but that's a huge decrease over the last several decades. And frankly, that's why we're so determined to stamp out vaping, which is a gateway for young people to take up cigarettes. And tragically, as I said, it's working. The only group in our community where smoking rates are increasing right now are the youngest members of our community. And that's directly related to this insidious product of e-cigarettes and vapes.
BRENNAN: Minister, on another issue while I've got you now, a number of crossbenchers have written to the government urging the government to start doing more to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. We know so many indigenous people are still dying in custody. What's the government doing on this issue?
BUTLER: Tomorrow all of the health ministers of the country, including me obviously, will be conducting a roundtable of indigenous health leaders to talk about a range of things that we can do to continue to close the gap. And I'm sure one of the agenda items on that I know will be a discussion about outstanding recommendations from the Royal Commission, particularly around culturally safe healthcare in prisons. That's something I've been talking to indigenous health leaders about during my entire time as the health minister. So, I think that is a recognition from the crossbench as well, that there is outstanding business from that Royal Commission which is now more than three decades ago. But certainly, as health ministers, as indigenous health leaders, we're already in a discussion about how we can catch up on those recommendations.
BRENNAN: Yeah, 30 years on. Mark Butler, thanks for your time this morning.
BUTLER: Thanks, Bridget.

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