Television interview with Minister Butler and Peter Stefanovic, Sky News First Edition - 21 March 2024

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Peter Stefanovic on world leading vaping legislation introduced to Parliament.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, the Federal Government will introduce a final tranche of vaping legislation today. Let's go to Canberra now, joining us is the Health Minister, Mark Butler. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So, what will this latest tranche involve?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: The laws I'm introducing to Parliament today, Pete, are a huge opportunity for the Parliament to do something really meaningful and lasting for the health of young Australians. We'll seek to prohibit the sale, the supply, the importation, the manufacture of e-cigarettes or vapes throughout Australia, except through usual therapeutic pathways: through a chemist on prescription by a doctor or a nurse practitioner. We've got to remember that when these products were first brought to Australia and other countries around the world, they were presented as a therapeutic good that would help hardened smokers kick the habit, usually smokers who'd been smoking for decades. They were not presented to us as a recreational product, particularly not one that would be targeted and marketed directly at our kids and young people. But that's what they've become. You just have to look at the products, they're bubble gum flavoured, they're brightly coloured, they're disguised as highlighter pens. And you also just have to look at where the vape stores are setting up, nine out of ten them are set up within walking distance of schools, because those are the target market.
STEFANOVIC: Yeah, that is no doubt troubling. But won't this all just fuel the illicit trade, forcing more of an underground?
BUTLER: Look, obviously we've recognised the need to ramp up our enforcement activities. Both Commonwealth and state governments are doing that. We've provided Border Force with substantial additional resources to police the import of these things, which we banned on the 1st of January. And already since then, we've seen hundreds and hundreds of thousands of illegal vapes seized at the border, far more than were being seized previously. And state governments also recognised that once these laws passed the Parliament - which I hope they will – they will be also responsible for enforcement on the ground at state level. So, these vape stores that school communities are just enraged about setting up down the road from their schools, they no longer will have a business to conduct.
STEFANOVIC: Yeah. The kids is the worrying part of things. I mean, if kids can get them, though, they will, will they not? I mean, they're unlikely to take that prescription route that you were talking about, and they're more likely to take that easier route where dangerous illegal vapes can be accessed and then sold on the black market.
BUTLER: As I said, these things were presented to us as a therapeutic good to help harden smokers kick the habit. They were not presented to us as a recreational product that would be made widely available to the community and particularly targeted at our kids, but we now know what the truth is. This is an insidious device from Big Tobacco to recruit a new generation to nicotine addiction. Increasingly, that is being recognised right around the world, which is why a ban on disposable vapes is being voted on today in the UK Parliament. It is why New Zealand - the new government there that had rolled back some of the reforms the previous government was thinking about - only this week again announced a ban on disposable vapes. This is because tragically, we're all recognising that the strategy of Big Tobacco is working. They are recruiting a new generation to nicotine addiction. We are seeing smoking rates rise among young Australians for the first time in a very long time, because vapers are three times more likely to take up smoking as well. We are just determined to stamp this out. And the tough new laws that I'm introducing to Parliament we're confident will do that. I don't pretend it's going to be easy, this thing has really got a march on us. The best time to have done this would have been five years ago, but the second best time is now. And if we don't do it, I fear that in five years it will be immeasurably more difficult to put this genie back in the bottle.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, final one here, Minister. Kevin Rudd, he's under the gun from Donald Trump. Should Mr Rudd stay on as ambassador if Trump wins in November? Or is too much mud being thrown from both sides for that to be a good relationship?
BUTLER: Look, as the Prime Minister and Minister Wong said, Kevin Rudd is a widely respected ambassador across the political spectrum here in Australia. There are many remarks that indicate that, but we also know he's widely respected in the US by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. They seek him out often for his views and his experience, particularly in relation to China and the Asia Pacific. So, we know there's going to be a lot of politics this year in the US, but we're confident that Ambassador Rudd will strongly serve the national interest, no matter what the outcome of the US election later this year.
STEFANOVIC: Okay. Mark Butler, good to have you with us this morning.

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