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Australia will crack down on illegal vape sales in a bid to reduce teen use

Australian Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler addresses the media at Parliament House on March 30 in Canberra, Australia.
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Australian Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler addresses the media at Parliament House on March 30 in Canberra, Australia.

Australia's government will crack down on recreational vape sales and enforce a requirement that products such as e-cigarettes be sold only in pharmacies with a prescription.

Mark Butler, the Australian health minister, said on Tuesday that vaping had been advertised to the public as a therapeutic product meant to help smokers quit but instead spawned a new generation of nicotine users, particularly young people.

"It was not sold as a recreational product and, in particular, not one for our kids. But that is what it's become — the biggest loophole, I think, in Australian health care history," Butler said in a speech to the National Press Club of Australia.

"We've been duped," he added.

Vapes are only legal with a prescription in Australia, but Butler said an "unregulated essentially illegal" black market has flourished in convenience stores, tobacconists and vape shops across the country.

"A so-called prescription model with next to no prescriptions, a ban with no real enforcement, an addictive product with no support to quit," he said.

The government will step up efforts to block the importation of any vaping products not destined for pharmacies and will stop the sale of vapes in retail stores.

Vapes will also be required to have packaging consistent with pharmaceutical products. "No more bubble gum flavors, no more pink unicorns, no more vapes deliberately disguised as highlighter pens for kids to be able to hide them in their pencil cases," Butler added.

Australia will ban single-use disposable vapes, and it will also allow all doctors to write prescriptions for vaping products. Currently, only one in 20 Australian doctors are authorized to do so.

Butler said the government's next budget proposal would include $737 million Australian dollars ($492 million) to fund several efforts aimed at vaping and tobacco use, including a lung cancer screening program and a national public information campaign encouraging users to quit.

One in six Australians between the ages of 14 and 17 and one-quarter of those between ages 18 and 24 have vaped, according to Butler, and the only group seeing their smoking rate increase in the country are those under 25.

The Australian Council on Smoking and Health and the Public Health Association of Australia applauded the new anti-vaping measures.

"The widespread, aggressive marketing of vaping products, particularly to children, is a worldwide scourge," said PHAA CEO Terry Slevin.

"For smokers who are legitimately trying to quit using vapes, the prescription model pathway is and should be in place," Slevin added. "But that should not be at the cost of creating a new generation of nicotine addicts among children and young people."

The government did not specify when the new efforts would begin.

According to the Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, dozens of other countries also ban the retail sale of e-cigarettes, including Brazil, India, Japan and Thailand.

The sale of vaping products in retail stores is legal and regulated in the U.S., which has also seen an increase in vaping rates among teens.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.