The New South Wales (NSW) government has allocated $6.8 million over three years to address the issue of illegal nicotine vape sales and provide support for young people addicted to vaping. A funding amount of $2.5 million will be utilized over the next 12 months to enhance vape quitting services, including the development of a digital platform, iCanQuit platform enhancements, and an online educational module. Additionally, around $4.3 million over the next three years will be dedicated to increasing state compliance and enforcement on vaping products.
This decision comes in response to the ongoing problem of illegal nicotine vape sales in the state. Such sales have resulted in addiction, changes in brain development, impairments in learning and memory, and worsened anxiety and depression among young individuals. According to the NSW government, e-cigarette and vape users are three times more likely to smoke traditional tobacco cigarettes than those who have never vaped.
NSW Health Minister Ryan Park stressed the importance of taking swift action to prevent the illegal sale of nicotine vapes to minors. He highlighted the presence of dangerous chemicals in vapes that can significantly impact a person’s health, with young people being particularly vulnerable. The minister urged the community to report any retailers engaging in illicit activities. The funding will potentially double the number of statewide inspectors responsible for enforcing the ban on nicotine vape sales. However, it should be noted that vape retailers can still legally sell vapes without nicotine, as federal reforms banning all vapes have not yet been implemented.
In a targeted raid conducted from September 5, NSW health inspectors seized 23,247 vapes with a street value of over $695,000. The number of nicotine vapes seized in 2022 through 5,000 inspections may double, reaching 369,000 with a street value of over $11.8 million. This year alone, NSW Health has confiscated a record-breaking 187,000 vapes, of which over 90 percent contained illegal nicotine.
Currently, only 14 retailers have been prosecuted out of the 5,000 inspections conducted. This is due to the difficulty in catching retailers under existing laws, which require knowledge of the vape containing nicotine in order to take legal action. The new funding will prioritize penalty assessment and packaging in order to address this issue. Retailers found guilty of selling illegal vapes could face severe sanctions, including imprisonment for up to six months.
A study conducted by the University of Wollongong on behalf of NSW Health analyzed 428 vapes seized from retailers and 322 vapes surrendered by children at Sydney schools. The majority of the vapes analyzed did not list nicotine as an active ingredient, but high nicotine concentrations were detected in over 85 percent of the samples. Furthermore, 30 vapes contained at least one harmful substance, including toxic chemicals such as ethylene glycol, which is also found in antifreeze. The research concluded that there is no such thing as a safe vape, as the true contents of vaping products are often unknown.
Dr. Colin Mendelsohn, Chairman of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association, argues that most young people who vape without a history of smoking are merely experimenting and only engage in short-term vaping. He believes that the exposure to toxicants and the risk of harm are low in such cases. While vaping may cause nicotine dependence in some young people, it is a minority occurrence. Dr. Mendelsohn highlights that nicotine in the doses used in vaping is relatively benign and does not cause cancer or lung disease. However, it does have minor cardiovascular effects and may lead to withdrawal symptoms and cravings if used frequently and then discontinued.
Dr. Mendelsohn further argues that vaping could divert young people from smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes, particularly those who already smoke. He cautions against vaping for young people who do not smoke due to potential health risks. Nevertheless, he believes that, at a population level, the benefits of youth vaping mainly lie in reducing smoking rates.