Previous government stuck its head in the sand on vaping, but the Albanese Government will not

In the film Thank You for Smoking, big tobacco spokesman Nick Naylor admits that his job requires “a certain moral flexibility” to earn a living from “fronting an organisation that kills 1200 people a day”.

Unbelievable? Not if you look at the history of cigarette marketing spin that predates that 2005 movie.

Cigarette ads in magazines from the 1940s featured doctors in their white coats extolling the virtues of certain brands because they didn't irritate the throat, or because “science” showed smokers' coughs disappearing after switching to a particular cigarette.

We say it couldn't possibly happen again. Well, guess what? We got sold a pup on vaping.

Health Minister Mark Butler reminded us that Australia was once a world leader on tobacco control but the former government was asleep at the wheel with vaping.

Regulation of products lagged. Big tobacco saw an opportunity to make up for revenue loss from the decrease in cigarette smoking. Vaping rates skyrocketed. And organised crime moved into the market.

Now, we have a rapidly developing public health crisis.

And it is our children who are at the centre of it.

Because vapes have been so easy for young people to get their hands on, it's boomed before parents have even had a chance to catch up. This isn't some fad, this is a new killer on the loose.

Last year, the Cancer Council NSW partnered with the Daffodil Centre and University of Sydney, with support from the Minderoo Foundation, to survey teenagers about their own experience with vaping.

The Generation Vape study found that, despite manufacturers and lobbyists claiming e-cigarettes were purely designed to help people stop smoking, vaping has been normalised for teens.

Of those young e-cigarette users surveyed, 70 per cent obtained the product for free from a friend. The other 30 per cent purchased it themselves, either from an individual or from a retailer such as a petrol station convenience store, or tobacconist. Social media, vape stores and websites were also widely used.

Let's be completely clear. There is no way for an underage person to legally obtain vaping products.

And let's not be naïve. The companies marketing them are looking to hook a whole new - and young - generation on their products. Why else would they make vapes so cheap and easy to use; in flavours that taste like desserts, energy drinks, and bubblegum; and be made to look like unicorns and teddy bears?

A 2022 report to government by the Australian National University found that teenagers are also being targeted with “myths” about the benign nature of vapes. They're told they're ‘'just vapour”.

That is a lie. The ANU study sets out the truth.

Global evidence shows e-cigarettes can contain high levels of nicotine and hundreds of chemicals, including formaldehyde and solvents.

They're a gateway to smoking, with non-smokers who vape three times as likely to take up regular smoking as non-smokers who don't vape.

The health impacts can include poisoning, seizures, burns, and lung disease. Quite dangerous for something that is “just vapour”.

To top it all off, the plastic casing and toxic substances that make up an e-cigarette are bad for the environment.

Vaping has no redeeming qualities.

I applaud Mark Butler for his leadership on this critical matter. He has tasked the Therapeutic Goods Administration with carrying out a public consultation process on nicotine vaping products.

The TGA is currently reviewing almost 4000 submissions made to the inquiry, with the report expected soon.

At the health ministers meeting last month, ministers from all Australian governments agreed to establish a national e-cigarette working group to review the increasing availability, appeal, and uptake of vaping products, and advise how we protect young people from their harms.

The previous government might have stuck its head in the sand on vaping, but the Albanese Government will not because we know it will be our kids who pay the price.