Kids take advantage of the black market for vaping

Young people access vaping through easily accessible black market channels with unknown long-term health effects.

In some cases, children as young as 14 say they have become addicted to nicotine, despite government efforts to restrict access to vaping severely.

Kids take advantage of the black market for vaping

Many tobacconists across Australia now sell disposable under-the-counter vapes, and social media has sprung up delivery services, in many cases aimed directly at young people.

One of those lured by the easy access was 17-year-old Ruby, who told ABC’s Four Corners that she was only 14 when she began to become addicted to nicotine.

“I don’t want to be like a huge tell-tale, but it’s super easy,” she said.

Camera income young people become addicted to nicotine by vaping. Credit: News Regional Media

“There’s a lot of small dealers working around the area and stuff.

“You go on your phone, like, ‘Can I pick up a vape?’ and they’re like, ’20 minutes.’ And you meet them somewhere, and they give it to you,” Ruby said.

Last October, Australia introduced the world’s first model that required a prescription to access nicotine vapors in hopes of reducing access for young people and the wider community.

Dr. Colin Mendelsohn, who specializes in helping patients quit smoking through vaping, says the prescription model hasn’t worked because it’s too difficult to access and has led to increased demand and growth in the black market.

“The government has set up this complex system that just doesn’t work; to find a GP who will prescribe and then find a pharmacy that will sell it — it’s just not a workable solution,” said Dr. Mendelsohn.

“So people go to the black market to buy unregulated products, and the black market is thriving and selling these products to children.”

Shane Kerrigan is the owner of iVape, which has been in business since 2011 and has two legal vape shops in Queensland.

He says the black market has been “out of control since the fight against nicotine vapes last year”.

“People would rather walk into one of these illegal shops and buy a nicotine vape from the other side of the counter than go to the vape store and figure out how to do it the right way,” he said.

Camera icon A price list for illegal vape products from a Tobacco shop in Chapel St. Illegal sellers drive those who follow the rules out of business. Credit: Included

Mr. Kerrigan has adhered to government rules and strict regulations on vaping and is now forced to close one of his shops as the illegal vape business flourishes in the street.

Since the restrictions on nicotine were introduced, Kerrigan says he has lost $400,000 in revenue and has been forced to lay off five employees.

He believes that the government has not followed its own rules.

“It’s all because of the government’s inability to control their nonsense. Why would you make a model and then not set up the infrastructure in the background to monitor that model?”

As a “prescription drug,” the responsibility for overseeing illegal vapes sold through tobacconists or online falls largely with the state’s health departments with the help of state police.

The Federal Therapeutic Goods Administration overseas large-scale import, manufacture, and advertising of illegal vaping. However, how individual states and territories enforce the laws, whether through the health department or the police, is up to them.

Camera IconResponsibility for overseeing the sale of illegal vapes is shared between organizations and generally rests with state health departments. Alex Coppel Credit: News Corp Australia

In NSW, the health department is the lead body for overseeing illicit vaping. However, the NSW Police said they did cooperate with enforcement and, if they received a report, had the authority to “investigate and take action”.

Last month, NSW Health revealed it had seized more than $1 million worth of illegal e-cigarettes and liquids since January, bringing the total amount taken since July 1, 2020, to more than $3 million.

“We are tackling the illegal sale of nicotine e-cigarettes and liquids and are taking a zero-tolerance approach from those who sell them,” said NSW chief health officer Dr. Kerry Chant at the time.

“You will be caught, illegal items will be confiscated, and you could be prosecuted, with a fine or even jail time.”

The maximum penalty for the illegal supply of liquid nicotine in NSW is $1,650, six months in prison, or both.

Despite these measures, young people can still get nicotine vapes, and more adult vape smokers also opt for the illegal high-nicotine disposable option.

“You have no choice with these disposables,” said Dr. Mendelsohn.

“They’re usually five, sometimes six percent, which is okay for some heavy smokers who want to quit, but it’s not necessary for most smokers, and especially for children it’s way too much.”

Camera Icon Despite attempts to stop the trade, many teens find it easy to buy and smoke vapes. Credit: istock

Professor of epidemiology and public health at the Australian National University Emily Banks led a recent study on the harms of vaping commissioned by the Australian government.

The study found that both known and unknown health risks are associated with vaping and alarmed the potential for a new generation of young people to become addicted to nicotine.

It noted that 32 countries worldwide banned vapes and e-cigarettes, including Japan, Switzerland, India, and Mexico. Another 84 countries had no regulation, and 79 countries, including Australia, were regulated to varying degrees.

“The (Australian) regulator has said, ‘We want to target this use to the people who use it to quit smoking, and we want to avoid its use in non-smokers,'” said Professor Banks.

“You can see it’s not being maintained particularly brilliantly, and what you’re seeing is very useful in young people – but we have less use in young people than if you had it freely available.”

Dr. Mendelsohn fears the risk of teens vaping will lead to the government banning them outright, which will only make the problem worse, he says.

“People don’t just suddenly go on with their virtuous lives and do what you always want them to do; they will still do it their way,” said Dr. Mendelsohn.

“Prohibitions send it underground and make the black market thrive, and the criminal gangs take up residence. You’re not reducing its use; you’re just making it less safe.”

Lori J. Kile
I love to write and create. I love photography, design, travel and art. I am a full time freelance writer and photographer.I am very excited to be creating new content and opportunities for my readers.