House debates

Thursday, 17 February 2022



1:12 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on an important emerging health issue in Australia, the explosion of vaping—the very concerning increase of this phenomenon in Australia—and the lack of regulation around it. The electronic cigarette is revolutionising the tobacco industry. It's creating new pathways to smoking and attracting new smokers, especially young smokers. Whilst there is still need for more research around the health impacts of e-cigarettes, it is already known that e-cigarettes are unsafe. The federal government's own health department has declared:

Hazardous substances have been found in e-cigarette liquids and in the aerosol produced by e-cigarettes, including these known cancer-causing agents …

Some chemicals in e-cigarette aerosols can also cause DNA damage.

That's the view of the federal Department of Health.

Given this, alarmingly, I recently had a constituent contact me. He was a very distressed father of two boys, a five-year-old and a seven-year-old. His two children had vaped at school when another seven-year-old had brought a vape to school. The vape had no labelling on it, and who knows what was in it? The five-year-old, who has a predisposition to chest complications, is still coughing a week later. He can't stop coughing, his father said. This is not an isolated incident. Many parents are concerned and have spoken to me about children accessing and using vapes. Because of this, I'm calling on the Morrison government to immediately tighten legislation and regulations to protect children and the broader Australian population.

The Morrison government's weak regulations are clearly not working, and vaping and vaping products are now getting a firm grip among children under 18. Effectively we've got very poor regulations and virtually zero compliance. These products are advertised all over the internet and are designed with packaging to directly appeal to children. One online supplier is now advertising a 'lolly bag sampler pack'. Each pack includes rainbow sherbet, marshmallow, cola bottle candy, gummy bear and fruit gum flavours. If that's not appealing to children, I don't know what is. These products and promotions are lawful within the current weak regulatory environment put in place by the Morrison government. They are designed by big tobacco companies to specifically put young people on a path to smoking tobacco. It is absolutely disgraceful. The Morrison government needs to act decisively, not tinker with weak regulations.

Yes, the coalition, after a pitched battle in their caucus, did restrict e-cigarettes to prescription-only, but there's no compliance. A policy is just smoke and mirrors without compliance and accountability. You get one pop-up asking you whether you're 18, which any five-year-old can click on and say yes. Then you just go on and order the product online. There should be either a complete ban on advertising of vape products or the strictest possible labelling and advertising laws, as there are for cigarette smoking, and heavy fines for anyone breaching those laws. A normal cigarette has 10 to 15 milligrams of nicotine; many e-liquid bottles contain 24 milligrams. E-cigarettes are very powerful.

Nearly all the global tobacco manufacturers, including Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco and Philip Morris, aggressively advertise these products via social media, and it's having a significant impact. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, e-cigarette use by Australians aged 14 or older more than doubled from 2016 to 2019, and it's most common amongst smokers aged 14 to 24.

I repeat: the Morrison government needs to protect Australian children. We know the coalition still receives donations from big tobacco, from Philip Morris. This is disgraceful. The coalition must reject the manipulative methods of big tobacco and their attempts to put our children on a path to smoking via vaping and e-cigarettes. The Morrison government must act to restrict and shut down the unscrupulous promotion of these products to children. This is the role of our federal government, and action must be taken now.


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