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Good intentions up in smoke


Good intentions up in smoke

Jane Stephens believes Australia had the chance to stop the scourge of vaping, but none of us can breathe easy now with the new watered-down laws.

Cinnamon and apple, choco-vanilla, icy watermelon with a minty twist. Name your flavour and it is sure to be available. Watch the kids breathe it in, then get hooked.

No one saw the enormity of vaping’s addiction wave. It was seen as inoffensive at first, with even doctors embracing it as a way to ease people off smoking. But to a generation that had not been subjected to the shock ads and public health campaign about the perils of smoking, breathing in tasty water vapour was quickly embraced as fun, social and intoxicating.

Then the science rolled in about how terrible it was for lungs, the stats stacked up about how much of it was coming from offshore, and the government panicked. A world-first ban on the vessels of poison was announced – the very possession of them without a prescription to be an illegal act.

Then another switch and an eleventh-hour back-pedal. From the start of this month, vapers might still need a prescription and can only get the devices from chemist shops. But from October, vapes can be bought without a prescription.

Crazy stuff. The possession of vapes will remain decriminalised, even for the very young, which means the local pharmacy is going to be the place to hang out for young puffers. Vapes will be like ciggies, except you get them from pharmacies instead of shops: plain packaging, behind the counter, ID required, limited to boring flavours.

Maybe the softening was because the federal government is not making the money it used to on nicotine. It had projected getting about $15 billion last financial year in excise on tobacco, but only got $10.5 billion.

Fewer people were buying legal smokes (they are about $60 a pack these days, so
little wonder), but they sure were getting their nicotine hits from places unregulated and untaxed. So, instead of banning vaping, the government (and the Opposition) will keep it, regulate it to collect their cut and go hard on illegal imports.

Making money out of people’s unhealthy habits has long been the practice of our governments, with booze, the pokies and cigarettes some of the income streams they rely on.

But they had the chance to do better: to show the public good was bigger than their addiction to our sins. And now they have blown it. What a crying shame.


Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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