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Tackling the spread of vaping

I rise in support of the member for Curtin's motion that calls on the government to address the increased use of e-cigarettes, particularly amongst young people. As a doctor, I am alarmed at the prospect of Australians once again having the wool pulled over our eyes by the tobacco industry, as they now prey on our children via the portal of e-cigarettes.

Australia led the world when it came to implementing public health initiatives to protect Australians from smoking-related harm. In 2012, Australia became the first country in the world to implement plain packaging laws for cigarettes. To date, 24 countries have followed Australia's lead in adopting similar rules. Over the last three decades, smoking rates in this country have fallen from 24 per cent to 11 per cent. And yet here we are, 10 years on from that success, readying ourselves for yet another a battle—a battle against e-cigarettes: smoking 2.0. What's worse is that this time it is our children who are the target of the tobacco industry's predatory behaviour, with the bright-coloured packaging and the lollipop flavours.

The World Health Organization has confirmed that e-cigarette emissions typically contain nicotine and other toxic substances that are harmful to both users and nonusers who are exposed to the aerosols second-hand. Don't be fooled by the sweet smell of the emissions: e-cigarettes can contain as many as 200 toxic chemicals. A single disposable product can contain as much nicotine as 150 traditional cigarettes and cost as little as $5. Not infrequently, they contain nicotine even if they are labelled as nicotine free—not quite the cookies and cream or the strawberry kisses that the packaging promises.

Research published as recently as December 2022 concluded that vaping is the strongest risk factor for smoking, and a recent study of adolescents in New South Wales reported that half of the kids who regularly consumed e-cigarettes had never smoked. So, rather than being a smoking cessation tool, for young people e-cigarettes are actually a gateway drug to smoking. So it is no surprise that major international tobacco companies have invested heavily in e-cigarettes in recent years, and tobacco companies now own many of the top e-cigarette brands. It seems like the strategy of big tobacco is to move our children from e-cigarettes to cigarettes by getting them hooked on nicotine. Media, school and community reports suggest that the use of e-cigarettes amongst young people in New South Wales has exploded in recent years. Stores which sell e-cigarettes are popping up in communities all across Australia, including in my electorate of Mackellar. These stores are often located near bus stops and train stations that ferry our children to and from school. There have been recent reports of tobacconists selling e-cigarettes to children in school uniforms.

Data from the New South Wales ministry of health shows that in 2021 the number of illegal nicotine products that were seized from retailers was over 11 times the number from the same period in 2020, and 80 per cent of adolescents said they found it easy to access this product. Something must be done to stop the sale of these highly toxic, highly addictive products to our children. Big tobacco is preying on our youth, and all levels of government must work together to stop this.

There are steps that the Commonwealth government can and should take to help fix this ballooning problem. They include: stronger border protections and customs prohibitions for all vaping products; better minimum quality and safety standards—plain packaging and health warnings for starters; and prohibiting all added flavours. I call on the government to act swiftly and decisively to protect our children from the growing scourge of e-cigarettes. We must once again become world leaders in protecting our children from both cigarettes and e-cigarettes.