Zali Steggall speaks in support of new vaping legislation

27 March 2024

I rise to speak to the Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Vaping Reforms) Bill 2024. As a sportsperson, I make no apology for being strongly against smoking and vaping. It is disappointing to see that the parliament is not united behind this ban and ensuring that it happens, because it is incredibly important.

Vaping has become a real public health threat. I have been urging the government to take decisive action against vaping to reduce the increasing rates of vaping and prevent the long-term harm on population health. Any complacency from government and health officials will see the rate of vaping continue to climb, particularly amongst our young people. In my electorate of Warringah, parents, carers and educators are constantly contacting my office to express serious concern about the ready viability of and easy access to vaping products, particularly for young people. Insidious vape shops are popping up regularly all around Warringah. The appearance of the vape shops and the vapes they sell is truly disgusting, in my opinion; the products look and taste like the sweets and lollies that they sit alongside in these shops. As I've mentioned previously, local media in my electorate, including the Manly Observer and the Northern Beaches Advocate, provide ongoing coverage to this important issue.

Young people do not understand or appreciate, or are not aware of, the insidious nature of vapes—that they are like smoking. We almost eradicated smoking in younger generations through strong public health campaigns and strong reforms. But now the tobacco industry has managed to ensnare children and young people through slick marketing of vaping products, specifically designed to appeal to young people. Make no mistake; it is big tobacco that is behind the vaping industry, and it's probably not surprising that the members in this place that are not supporting and opposing this outright ban are the members of the National Party. They are the one party that accepts donations from tobacco. It is incredibly disappointing that that, I would suggest, influences their position in relation to this legislation. A ban is the only way we protect young people from being at risk of this insidious product. If we fail to act now, the alarming rates of youth vaping will continue to rise. We need strong legislation to ban the importation, marketing and distribution of vapes, and we need public health campaigns to educate and help our youth.

Vapes also pose an environmental harm. Many e-cigarette pods can't be recycled due to potential nicotine content. Discarded pods can also leak, creating contamination and plastic waste that takes centuries to degrade. For all our Clean Up Australia days and all those amazing groups around our communities, it is frightening how much vaping products now make up what is found in the environment. In the United Kingdom, the Guardian reported, in 2023, that disposable vapes are behind a dramatic rise in fires at recycling plants—raising the risk of a major blaze releasing toxic fumes and polluting air, industry experts warn. In fact, when I visited a recycling facility in Western Australia, as a member of the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water, they showed just how many vaping products had been collected and the risks they pose.

There are some truly disturbing statistics out there. Children as young as 12 find that vapes are accessible from their friends, siblings and businesses. Eighty-seven per cent of children said that accessing vapes was easy, and the majority said they were attracted to the fruity flavours—which is not surprising, given the strategic marketing of these products to kids. What starts as a social habit can readily become a severe dependency on nicotine. Kids start sacrificing their learning time, sleep and money to use and acquire vapes. It's happening in classrooms, school bathrooms and at home. Vapes have become part of children's lives, and it must be stopped. In Australia, the number of people vaping tripled between 2019 and 2022. Vaping is particularly endemic amongst youth, with one in six high-schoolers currently vaping and one in three having tried it. Ninety-three per cent of teachers are concerned about vaping in schools, and they report that children are distracted, stressed and anxious. These kids are often not aware that they're experiencing withdrawal symptoms and they turn to vaping to counteract those feelings, fuelling an insidious cycle.

There's growing evidence that it poses significant risk to our health. These concerns on the impact of vaping absolutely also include the impact on adolescent brain development, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and cancer. It's also linked to anxiety, stress behaviours and mental health issues. The list that justifies why this legislation is absolutely needed and why vapes must be banned is long.

This bill bans the importation, domestic manufacture, supply, commercial possession and advertising of vapes. It's part of the second phase of the vaping regulation. I strongly support it. Following this bill passing, the provisions will regulate vapes, ban advertising and introduce new offences and civil penalty provisions in relation to importation, domestic manufacture, supply, commercial possession and advertising of vapes. It bans the commercial possession of vapes, and all of this better regulates the vaping industry and will help deter the importation and commercial supply of vaping products.

These vaping reforms are designed to protect the health and wellbeing of Australians and are based on extensive public health professional consultation, so I strongly support them. They establish a strong national framework to tackle the endemic levels of vaping in Australia, particularly amongst our youth. We must address this, and I congratulate the government for taking a firm stand. I urge all members in this place to get behind this necessary health measure.