The ease of buying nicotine vapes in Queensland is in the spotlight as the Australian Medical Association issues the state government with its Dirty Ashtray award.
Australians have needed a prescription to legally access e-cigarettes containing nicotine since October, but the rules are rarely enforced, the AMA says.
Doctors say the products are “very clearly” being targeted towards non-smokers – especially teenagers and young adults.
“Vaping is touted by big tobacco as a quit aid, but currently no liquid nicotine vaping products have been approved for use in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration,” AMA Queensland President Maria Boulton said.
More than 20 per cent of people between 18 and 24 used e-cigarettes in 2020-21, despite close to 84 per cent having never smoked, the AMA said.
Some 16 per cent of Queensland secondary school students reported having used e-cigarettes, state government figures show.
“Many teens believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking but it is addictive and is associated with proven harms from inhaling heated gases into the lungs,” Dr Boulton said.
“Queensland’s failure to enforce these laws means these products are easily accessible, including some falsely labelled ‘nicotine free’ and others that contain up to 50 times more nicotine than a cigarette.”
A young woman living in inner Brisbane told AAP that a local vendor has a nicotine vape menu on the counter, and they charge less if you pay cash.
When she tried to buy a non-nicotine vape, she was told nicotine is better.
Another Brisbane resident said the trick is to ask what flavours are available, mention you have cash, and you will likely be offered a nicotine option.
A woman on the Sunshine Coast said there are “gift shops” set up to sell the e-cigarettes, and buying a nicotine version is generally pretty relaxed.
However there are legitimate operators, often tobacconists, that won’t sell the nicotine options and always ask for ID, she said.
The AMA has written to the health minister and the attorney-general, calling on them to “urgently rectify these failures before Queensland children become the next generation of smokers and suffer the associated catastrophic health results”.
“We call on the government to act on the raft of legal changes proposed in its tobacco law reform discussion paper, including banning smoking in outdoor markets and school car parks, not allowing children in smoking areas in pubs and clubs, and requiring tobacco product retailers to be licensed,” Dr Boulton said.
These measures are being considered as part of Queensland’s smoking law reform, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said.
“We would like to see relevant authorities given additional enforcement powers to target the illegal tobacco industry,” she said in a statement in May.
“Right now, we know that there are challenges when it comes to coordinating a response to illegal operations across multiple agencies including state and Commonwealth bodies.
“That’s why we’re taking this important step to ensure that illicit operators know that there’s nowhere to hide, and they’ll be caught if they do the wrong thing.”
Ms D’Ath and Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman have been contacted to respond to the AMA.
Ms Fentiman’s office said laws around vapes and nicotine sit with the health department.