The rise of vaping in Australia is “completely unacceptable,” said treasurer Jim Chalmers, as the cigarette replacement threatens to put a hole in the budget.
E-cigarettes, also known as vaping, have replaced heavily taxed tobacco products as the nicotine habit of choice for young people.
The drop in tobacco consumption, with the selling price of cigarettes at about 70 percent excise duty, threatens to cut tax revenues this fiscal year by $5 billion.
Dr. Chalmers addressed the issue at a press conference in Brisbane on Tuesday, noting that Australia had seen “an explosion in vaping.”
“The status quo when it comes to vaping and smoking in general is completely unacceptable,” Dr Chalmers said.
E-cigarettes, more commonly known as vaping, are displacing traditional tobacco use among young people
“This is a problem for the Budget, but much, much more important than that, this is a problem for our society.”
An estimated 400,000 Australians vape regularly and it has become extremely popular among young people, with an estimated one in 10 people between the ages of 16 and 24 vaping.
More than a third of e-cigarette users in Australia are under the age of 25, with 11 percent of the population aged 14 and over reporting e-cigarette use in 2019.
By contrast, the number of Australians using traditional tobacco products has steadily declined over the past decade from 16 percent to 11 percent according to the latest figures.
E-cigarettes with nicotine were intended as a replacement for traditional tobacco products and are legally only available with a doctor’s prescription.
However, they are widely available online or from retailers who sell them illegally.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers (pictured left with partner Laura in Canberra last September) noted that vaping does not incur the same tax burden as cigarettes and other tobacco products
Dr. Chalmers said this worried him more as a parent than as a treasurer.
“I think anyone who has driven past the bus stops before and after school and has seen vaping spreading among our youth (would agree) – these are incredibly worrying developments,” he said.
Dr. Chalmers said federal health minister Mark Butler was working with state counterparts to devise measures to curb the rise of vaping.
Despite the tax loss, the Albanian government announced new measures in early December to reduce traditional tobacco use.
Mr Butler announced a ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes, highlighted that each individual cigarette will have a health warning and packs will come in ‘uglier’ colors as part of the government’s effort to curb the habit.
There are concerns that potentially toxic e-cigarettes are being marketed to young people
The Health Minister also expressed concern about the growing number of e-cigarette users and that children were the target audience.
“Vapes that are marketed with pink unicorns, bubble gum flavors, fruit flavors — they’re not marketed to adults,” he said.
Vaping suppliers have circumvented the law restricting nicotine content by simply not listing their ingredients, which may also contain other harmful chemicals.
Research from the Australian National University published in March found that vaping poses a major health risk, especially for young people.
It is estimated that there are 400,000 regular vapers in Australia, many of them young people
“People who vape inhale a complex cocktail of chemicals,” the research paper said.
More than 240 chemicals were found in toxicology analyzes of non-nicotine e-cigarettes. That compares to about 7,000 chemicals in traditional cigarettes.
At least 38 of those chemicals were listed as poisons and another 27 were associated with adverse health outcomes.
The Australian Medical Association urged the government to take firm action given the increasing use of vapes by children.
“Australian governments must act now,” said AMA President Professor Steve Robson.
“This will help us address the problem of vaping being marketed and sold to children.”