April 29, 2024

Clearing the Smoke: A Harm Reduction approach to new vaping laws

Vaping has quickly become a favoured form of nicotine consumption over the past few years, with countless flavours, cheaper prices and varying sizes, making it easier to consume nicotine wherever you are. On the first of January 2024, the Australian Federal Government implemented stricter controls on the manufacture, importation and supply of disposable vapes and vaping products, sparking intense discussion and anti-vaping campaigns across the country. So how did we get here? And what is a harm reduction approach to all of this?  

Going back to the beginning…  

Vaping was originally introduced as a harm reduction approach to smoking cigarettes. Following countless Government anti-smoking campaigns, such as the “Every smoke is doing you damage” campaign, as well as the exorbitant increase in the tobacco tax over the last decade, vapes were introduced as a better alternative to smoking. Marketed as a cheaper and safer alternative, masses of people turned to vaping to reduce or quit smoking.   

Vapes are devices that contain flavoured liquid or vape juice (which often includes nicotine) that is heated up by a coil and turned into a vapor, which is then inhaled. There are two devices for vaping nicotine: reusable and disposable. Reusable vapes are devices that are rechargeable and refillable with vape juice. These devices give the user control of the power level and nicotine level, making it easier to switch from cigarettes and slowly reduce nicotine intake. These vapes currently require a prescription to obtain and use legally, which is a barrier to access for some. Disposable vapes are devices that have a single life battery and are preloaded with vape juice and nicotine. These vapes are designed to be thrown away when the battery dies. As we all know, vaping is everywhere, and is currently easy to access for most people, though not necessarily through a regulated prescription and supply.  

What impact could the new laws have?  

As more restrictions continue to be implemented around vaping, it’s likely that these regulations will result in people turning back to smoking tobacco or look to the black market for vape juice and vaping products. This is particularly concerning as we know that black market products are subject to no regulations and can contain other harmful chemicals and adulterants. At the end of last year (2023) a powerful synthetic opioid called Nitazene was found in black market vape juice, resulting in multiple opioid overdoses and one death. A rush of people into black market vape juice, increases the likelihood of unwanted side effects caused by unknown adulterants. Similarly, a turn back to tobacco products may see a rise in more serious health concerns.  

NSW Users and Aids Association, a peer-based harm reduction organisation that represents people with lived and living experience of drug use in NSW, has produced a position paper on vaping which can be read here. Their position highlights the harms that criminalisation has caused more broadly, and that the black market is a much more dangerous space than a regulated supply of vape nicotine. They also note that vaping itself does not come without it’s own harms and potential harms as an emerging evidence base.  

The ADF has also addressed the changes in their article and updated their position paper on vaping. The ADF highlights that criminalisation of individuals, especially young people who use vapes illicitly, would cause significant harm, and celebrates that the newest changes to vape laws in Australia do not include criminal penalties for individuals found with illicit vaping products. However, the ADF states that the new laws could cause further harm by increasing black markets and more dangerous substances circulating.   

So what should I do if I vape?  

If you currently use vapes and are worried about the changes, or more generally about the impact vaping may be having on your health, there are a few things you can do.  

  • Firstly, you can contact your GP for prescription nicotine vaping products that can be dispensed via a pharmacy. This will ensure you are receiving an unadulterated supply of nicotine that can be monitored and/or reduced under the guidance of your GP.  
  • If you would like to quit vaping, the Quitline has trained counsellors who can create personalised quitting plans, help identify and manage triggers and provide support throughout the quitting process.  
  • You can also call NUAA’s Peerline on 1800 644 413 for free, non-judgemental support from a peer.  
  • For more information, you can check out NADA’s position paper on vaping here.
  • Stay up to date with policies and how they affect you by keeping tabs on Pivot Point, the ADF website, and NUAA’s social media pages.