I rise to speak on the Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Vaping Reforms) Bill 2024, which amends the Therapeutic Goods Act. This bill bans the importation, domestic manufacture, supply, commercial possession and advertisement of disposable single-use and non-therapeutic vapes.

I welcome these long-overdue reforms to curb the use of vapes in Australia. As a former nurse and regional health researcher, I’ve dedicated my life to improving the health outcomes of regional and rural Australians. Health—including, importantly, preventive health—is a key concern for the people I represent, the people of Indi. I’ve long shared my constituents’ concerns about the prevalence of vaping, most particularly among young people. While I acknowledge the need for some patients to access therapeutic vapes to help manage their nicotine dependence, the reforms proposed in this bill are much-needed safeguards against the growing health risks posed by the vaping industry.

My office has heard from concerned parents, school principals and health professionals worried about the use of vapes by children, particularly in our schools. I share these concerns, because youth vaping has increased significantly in recent years. According to the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics, one in two people aged 18 to 24 have experimented with vape use at least once in their lifetime, and the current use of vapes among young women has increased from 2.4 per cent in 2019 to a staggering 20 per cent in 2023. Lung Foundation Australia reports that, in 2023, 14.5 per cent of all teenagers aged 14 to 17 years old were currently vaping, increasing to 20 per cent for young Australians aged 18 to 24 years. These, in anybody’s language, are shocking statistics.

With so many young people now addicted to vaping, I have serious concerns about how these products are advertised and targeted at young people. Most of these vapes come in novelty fruit and confectionery flavours, are sold alongside lollies and popcorn and are designed specifically to appeal to young people. They’re positioned as healthier alternatives to cigarettes, but we find ourselves on track to creating another generation of addiction, with elevated risks of serious health issues.

The increase in vaping has translated to three times as many teenagers taking up smoking. Teen smoking in Australia hasn’t risen in decades, but here we are. A Curtin University study tested the chemicals of 52 flavoured e-liquids available for sale over the counter in Australia and widely used in vapes. The research revealed a toxic cocktail of ingredients, highlighting the significant—

The Curtin University research revealed a toxic cocktail of ingredients, highlighting the significant health risks that vape users are exposing themselves to. Of the vapes tested, they were all found to have been inaccurately labelled, containing chemicals with unknown effects on respiratory health. Sixty-two per cent contained chemicals likely to be toxic if inhaled repeatedly. Research also shows that more than 20 per cent of vapes available in Australia contain nicotine, despite this being illegal. It’s unlawful to use, sell or buy nicotine for use in vapes in Australia without a prescription.

Time and time again, people tell me that vaping is highly addictive. That’s why this bill is needed, to help people make healthier informed choices. The Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Vaping Reforms) Bill 2024 will strengthen standards for therapeutic vapes by requiring a prescriptive list of permitted ingredients; accurate pharmaceutical packaging and labelling; and a ban on advertising, except in limited circumstances. Numerous studies highlight concerns about the potential adverse effects of vaping, including impacts on adolescent brain development, adverse pregnancy outcomes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and cancer. A range of other health risks are also associated with vape use, including severe burns, poisoning and seizures.

Therapeutic vapes can play a role in helping people to give up cigarettes, so we must ensure that anyone with a genuine desire to quit can afford prescriptions and has access to credible prescribing services, particularly in regional, rural, and remote areas, where access to medical services can be challenging. As we take these measures to protect people from the harm of nicotine addiction, we must ensure that we do not cause more harm to already vulnerable people struggling with addiction. I can’t overstate it: we need to make sure that, for people struggling with giving up cigarettes, we do everything we can, with a full suite of therapeutic actions to support them and assist them to quit.

At least 20,000 Australians die each year from diseases linked to smoking. Successive governments over many years have taken action to regulate the tobacco industry, and now the industry is hedging by investing in the vape sector. Tobacco companies are signing supply contracts with Australian pharmacies and telehealth providers who equip patients with scripts for therapeutic vapes. Vapes are indeed big business for big tobacco. With this bill adopted, the only vapes available legally in this country from 1 July would be those prescribed by medical practitioners and dispensed by pharmacies—and perhaps prescribed by other practitioners, too, such as nurse practitioners. It’s outrageous to think that the tobacco industry has any involvement in products prescribed for therapeutic use.

We must stamp out the pervasive lobbying, cash for access and political donations that buys big tobacco influence over state and federal MPs. Conflicts of interest and gifts must be clearly declared, as should the relationships between political parties and tobacco companies. Public health reforms must be about the community need, never about corporate greed.

This bill builds on the progress the government has already made to ban all non-therapeutic vapes, by providing a national framework to regulate the importation, domestic manufacture, supply, commercial possession and advertisement of all vapes, irrespective of nicotine content or therapeutic claims.

I commend the Minister for Health and Aged Care for prioritising this issue and establishing the National Vaping Working Group to oversee the development and implementation of a national vaping enforcement framework. I’m frequently told how easy it is to access vapes despite the regulations currently placed on them, and that’s why these reforms are needed. Importantly, they must be enforceable, so we need as many resources put to this as we possibly can.

I welcome strong and decisive action to halt and reverse rapidly increasing vape intake, to prevent long-term adverse effects on the health of our communities, especially the health of our next generation. It has taken far too long for the Commonwealth to reach this point, but I’m so glad that they have, with so many Australians already addicted. As a parliament, it’s critical now that we work together to turn this public health issue around.

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