Stores in Australia’s biggest cities are openly selling nicotine vape products despite the Albanese government’s new laws outlawing them.
A nationwide ban on the importation of disposable vapes came into force on January 1, with retailers prohibited from selling e-cigarettes containing nicotine.
Health Minister Mark Butler called the reforms ‘world-leading’ as they kicked in last week, adding: ‘If you vape, this new year make it your resolution to quit.’
But Mr Butler’s ‘world-leading’ crackdown appears to be going up in smoke, ignored by brazen specialist retailers and convenience stores.
Along King Street in the trendy Sydney suburb of Newtown, Daily Mail Australia spotted at least 20 independent and chain stores selling illegal nicotine vapes, illicit cigarettes and other smoking devices.
It has been illegal to vape or smoke cigarettes in Australia without a prescription since 2021
At some of the stores our reporter was handed plastic folders displaying the dozens of different models and flavours customers can choose from.
Flavour options included apple, blueberry raspberry, watermelon and mango ice – all containing nicotine despite Mr Butler’s ban.
The packaging was adorned with vibrant colours and playful designs that made the vapes look more like lollies marketed to children than nicotine products.
Prices ranged from $25 to $50 depending on the amount of puffs contained.
And the process for purchasing the forbidden products was the same as for buying legal goods.
No ID checks to confirm age, no secretive whispers – just a straightforward credit card transaction in exchange for the contraband.
Daily Mail Australia visited five convenience stores on bustling King Street in Newtown, in Sydney’s inner west, to prove just how easy it is to still buy illicit vapes
Australia’s Federal Health Minister Mark Butler send a blunt message to vapers in 2024: ‘If you vape, this year, make it your resolution to quit’
No ID checks were required when Daily Mail Australia purchased illegal vape products
Legalise Vaping Australia director Brian Marlow told Daily Mail Australia this was proof that government attempt to regulate vaping were not working.
‘The funny thing about this ban is that disposable vapes have never been legal in Australia, they have always been banned,’ he said.
Back in 2021, the Morrison government made it illegal for any Australian to purchase or import nicotine vapes or e-cigarettes without a prescription from a doctor.
This brought the requirement for importation in line with an existing ban on the sale of nicotine vapes in Australia under state and territory laws.
But many retailers and manufacturers have attempted to get around the legislation by falsely claiming their products do not contain nicotine.
Under the new ban, retailers are permitted to sell existing nicotine-free inventory imported before this year.
The importation of all non-therapeutic vapes, and all vapes for personal use, will be prohibited from March 1.
To coincide with the changes to importation rules, a new access scheme will be set up to allow doctors and nurses to prescribe therapeutic vapes where appropriate.
Mr Marlow said the bans had only allowed retailers to charge their customers more for vapes because of the increased risks they were taking to import and sell them.
He said crime gangs who import the vapes from China to sell to retailers have also been able to increase their profit margins.
‘Over 90 per cent of the vapes sold in Australia are black market,’ he said.
‘With over one million vapers in Australia you’re looking at a multi-billion dollar industry that the federal government has no real plan to legalise.
‘We’re the only country in the world with an issue this bad.’
Mr Marlow said highly addictive IGET vapes manufactured in Chinese factories were also banned in China and rarely used by residents.
‘But here, we’re eating it up, there’s no issue exporting it to Australia,’ he said.
‘Because we haven’t regulated the market properly, people are willing to break the law and face criminal charges.
‘They’re happy to sell to kids. We’re letting criminals operate.’
Experts say illicit vape pens imported from China have created a multi-billion dollar industry
Mr Marlow said marketing restrictions, product standards, licences for retailers, and heavy fines for selling to minors would help clean up the black market.
‘Australia should be following the lead of New Zealand, the UK and the rest of the world when it comes to vaping laws,’ he said.
‘Allow the sale of high quality vapes and regulate them in the same way we regulate other adult-only products like alcohol.
‘Doing this will allow adults to access safer products that won’t have sky high nicotine levels like what you see in dodgy Chinese disposables.
‘It will also crush the rampant vaping black market the government has created.’
A nationwide ban on the import and sale of disposable vapes came into effect on January 1
Researchers recently found that one in four Australian teens have vaped
However, Professor Simon Chapman of Public Health at the University of Sydney said vapes needed to be strictly regulated, and objected to calling the reforms a ‘ban’.
‘Vapes are not being banned but strictly regulated like they always should have been. Anyone who says they are banned probably also believes that every prescribed drug in Australia is by the same argument also banned,’ Professor Chapman told media.
The government’s current crackdown is fuelled by the rise in underage Aussies accessing vapes and young non-smokers adopting nicotine vaping.
‘Vaping was sold to governments and to communities all around the world as a therapeutic product to help long term smokers quit,’ Mr Butler said in a National Press Club address in May 2023.
‘It was not sold as a recreational product, and in particular, not one for our kids. That is what it has become.’
Mr Butler criticised the former Coalition government, saying they were not strict enough on regulating vape imports, and simultaneously created excessive hurdles for smokers seeking legal prescriptions.
‘The former government ended up creating the perfect conditions for this unregulated, essentially illegal market to flourish right before our eyes,’ Mr Butler said.
‘A so-called prescription model with next to no prescriptions, a ban with no real enforcement and an addictive product with no support to quit.’