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Catholic parents and agencies welcome vapes crackdown

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Catholic services welcomed the Federal Government’s plan to restrict sales of vape products in Australia. Photo: Unsplash

Catholic health and parents’ advocates welcomed a national crackdown on the illegal sales of vapes and e-cigarettes announced by health minister Mark Butler on 2 May.

The Australian government will ban the importation of non-prescription vaping products as well as single-use disposable vapes. It will also introduce regulatory restrictions on flavours, colours and attractive packaging to limit their appeal to young people and non-smokers.

It comes after a recent consultation by the Therapeutic Goods Administration of health groups and the community.

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Recent years have seen an explosion in sales of disposable e-cigarettes and pod devices containing cocktails of chemicals and in some cases dangerously high levels of nicotine.

Vape products containing liquid nicotine can only be legally purchased from chemists with a doctor’s prescription, for the purpose of quitting smoking.

But sweet-scented and flavoured products in brightly-coloured packaging can be found in other retail outlets such as convenience stores and tobacco shops, appealing to teenagers and children and implying that vaping is a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes.

James McLennan, state-wide smoking cessation training coordinator based at St Vincent’s Health Network in Sydney, said that vaping devices and device liquids are “just too easy to access”.

“This provides a strong regulatory response to assist in reducing access,” he said. “These devices were never intended for use as consumer or recreational products.

Vapes addictive and dangerous: Psychologist James McLennan.
Psychologist James McLennan praised the “strong regulatory response” to youth vaping

“We’ve seen a proliferation of young people using these devices across Australia and a whole new generation becoming nicotine addicted, that wouldn’t have otherwise. While the announcement may not entirely stem the use of these products, in particular by young people, it should go a long way in reducing access and therefore reducing uptake.”

Catherine Garrett-Jones, executive director of the Catholic Council for School Parents NSW/ACT, said any move to provide a safer community environment for students is welcome.

“We are well aware that vaping is a big problem among our young people, and parents and carers are very concerned about the potential for their children and young people to access vapes as well as a lack of understanding about what is actually in them and what the health risks are,” she said.

“Another real concern is whether non-nicotine vaping use is a soft entry for young people into use of tobacco products.”

Irene Drivilas, practice manager at CatholicCare Sydney, the church’s social welfare agency, said that any reforms “preventing children from getting access to nicotine and toxic chemicals is a step in the right direction.”

The wide-ranging reforms will also include raising the tax on tobacco and introducing a $260 million national lung screening program. Quit smoking programs will receive $30 million dollars of support in the next budget while another $63 million will go to a national information campaign on the risks to young people.

Mr Butler said a strong national response would stamp out the “public health menace”, explaining that vaping products can contain more than 200 chemicals, with some similar to those found in nail polish remover and weed killer.

“Let’s be very clear about this. Big tobacco has taken another addictive product, wrapped it in shiny packaging, adding sweet flavours to create a new generation of nicotine addicts,” he said.

Flavoured vape products in attractive packaging are sold in many retail outlets although they are only legally available with a doctor’s prescription.

“Vaping was sold as a therapeutic product to help long-term smokers quit, not a recreational product and especially not one targeted to our kids.

“Young people who vape are three times as likely to take up smoking, and under 25s are the only cohort in the community currently recording an increase in smoking rates. This must end.”

Mr McLennan, who is also a psychologist, said that apart from the problem of users becoming nicotine dependent, there are short term and potentially longer-term risks related to serious lung injury, while recent research has also emerged of a link with mental illness.

“Although causation is yet to be proven, evidence shows that young people that use these products are three times more likely to go on to tobacco smoking,” he added.

“This ban should support our work if it does turn out that it reduces consumer access to the devices and liquids. It may also help to ‘denormalise’ vaping as an acceptable behaviour.”

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