House debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2023

Questions without Notice


3:22 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Health and Aged Care. How is the Albanese Labor government taking action on vaping to protect the health of Australians, particularly our children? Why is strong action needed, and what options has the government considered and rejected?

3:23 pm

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the Member for Macarthur for his question. Two great things happened in 1984: Medicare kicked off, and a young Dr Freelander started medical practice. I feel so lucky to have him as a member of our government and our caucus, giving us the benefit of his big brain and his long experience.

Australia right now is grappling with a new public health menace. Vaping right around the world was sold to communities as a therapeutic good that would help hardened smokers kick the habit when they'd tried a whole range of other smoking cessation supports with no success, but it's now clear we were all deliberately deceived. It is now beyond doubt that this is a product that is being deliberately targeted at recruiting a new generation—our youngest generation—to nicotine addiction. You just have to look at these products. They're brightly coloured. They have cartoon figures on them—pink unicorns and things like that. There are bubblegum flavours. They're often marketed as highlighter pens and USBs so students can hide them in their pencil cases without being detected by teachers and their parents.

Most tragically, this deliberate strategy from the tobacco industry is working.

One in six high-school kids is vaping, and one in four young adults is vaping. Over the course of the recent exam period, year 11s and year 12s have had to wear nicotine patches to get through an exam without having a vape. We know this is now, as the education minister tells me all the time, the No. 1 behavioural issue in our school communities that parents, teachers and school leaders talk about.

We also know that young vapers are three times more likely to take up cigarettes, and our youngest Australians are now the only cohort in the community in which smoking rates are going up. Some in the community say: 'It's gone too far. We should just raise the white flag, accept that this is now part of the Australian way of life and maybe derive a bit of revenue from it on the way.' That is the position of the National Party and some others in the coalition party room, I think to their discredit. That is why Greg Hunt was rolled by the coalition party room when he tried to snuff this out at the start and put in place an import control.

That is not the approach of this government. We're not going to give in to this deliberate, cynical strategy by the tobacco industry to undo five decades of tobacco control efforts. We'll do what the former government should have done. On 1 January it will be illegal to import any disposable vapes into this country. Over the course of the following months we'll put in place more regulation to ensure that our kids are protected and that the ABF and TGA are properly resourced. We'll snuff this out for good. (Time expired)

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.