Share This Article
Jules Vahl looks into vaping and analyses the new vaping laws.
The tobacco industry is the scummiest, most disgraceful institution known to humankind, which is why it gave me great pleasure to read that the use of vapes has finally been restricted to their only productive purpose: to help smokers quit smoking. From October 1 2021, vapes will not be available to buy or import from overseas without a prescription. No more shall naïve schoolchildren enter EzyMart to line the pockets of an industry that made its fortune by sending people to an early grave, all the while ardently denying that it did so. This article will dissect the history of smoking and vaping, the likely rationale behind the new law, possible arguments against the law, and why the law represents a victory for Australians as the tobacco industry is gradually suffocated into submission.
So the story goes, the first person to “discover” smoking was Christopher Columbus, although First Nations Americans had used tobacco in cultural ceremonies for thousands of years prior. By the 18th century a tobacco trade had developed, and the few scientists who wrote on the dangers of smoking were ignored. After the industrial revolution came the cigarette machine in 1880, but the real accelerant for the smoking fad was the two World Wars, where troops were given free cigarettes to “boost morale.” Presumably, since nicotine is an appetite-suppressant, the Allies also wanted to save on rations.
The attraction to smoking leaked into the post-War period and became the symbol of glamorous society in America and the UK in the 50s. Up to 80% of adults in the UK were hooked. Aggressive marketing and mass-production contributed to a move away from pipe tobacco towards cigarettes, which led to the proliferation of cigarette brands. Cigarette companies were highly conscious of presenting their products as healthy. Camel cigarettes famously advertised that “more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.”
In the latter half of the 20th century, a body of scientific evidence emerged linking smoking to lung cancer and other health issues, but the industry remained untouched until 1994, when it was put on high alert by Dianne Castano, who brought the largest class action lawsuit in history against the American Tobacco Company (Castano v Am. Tobacco Co. 84 F.3d 734 (5th Cir. 1996)). Castano, whose husband had died of lung cancer, alleged that the American Tobacco Company was liable to every single nicotine dependent person in the US for their failure to inform cigarette consumers of the addictiveness of nicotine and the fact that they manipulated the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to sustain their addictive nature. The plaintiffs failed, unfortunately, because the Fifth Circuit Court rejected the District Court’s decision to certify (ie. “validate”) the class of plaintiffs. However, the case of Castano gave rise to many other individual lawsuits against tobacco companies, many of which succeeded.
The world had been put on notice, and smoking began to decline in popularity as more and more scientific evidence of the connection between smoking and cancer emerged. Since the dawn of the 21st century, Australian federal and state governments have taken action by banning smoking in public places, introducing plain packaging and continually increasing taxes on cigarettes.
The tobacco industry, however, is a sly beast. Perhaps in response to the torrent of lawsuits and social pressure that arose from Castano’s case, e-cigarettes made their debut in 2003. Gradually the design of e-cigarettes diversified and morphed into “vapes,” which have exploded in popularity in recent years. Like many other nicotine related products, such as nicotine patches or aerosol sprays, vapes were marketed as a “healthier” alternative to smoking that helps smokers kick their habit of a pack a day. In my view, breaking addiction is the only valid reason for why vapes should exist, although, much to my dismay, this still involves the tobacco industry profiting off nicotine addictions they created in the past.
What is truly disgraceful is how blatantly vapes target a group of young people who are largely defenceless against the sinister marketing capacities of the tobacco industry. When most of us were in Year 7, the worldwide castigation of smoking was still vivid in everyone’s minds, and PDHPE syllabuses viciously drew attention to the inevitability of getting lung cancer if you smoked. Vaping, on the other hand, had not yet developed its infectious popularity, and so young people were not educated about the historical context from which vaping developed. Nor were they told that vapes still conatin significant amounts of nicotine and not necessarily “healthier” than cigarettes. Nor were they told that purchasing vapes within Australia without a prescription is already illegal. I would hope that the PDHPE syllabuses of today have changed to combat this issue. Considering that vapes are marketed based on their colour, their flavour and the ease with which one might conceal them, I find it impossible to believe otherwise that vapes have been specifically targeted to children and young adults, as the tobacco industry seeks to keep itself afloat by hooking its next generation of victims on a more benign-looking, pencil-case friendly, less socially-shunned nicotine product.
It is for those reasons that the new vaping laws are so important. The rationale behind the law is to prevent people who do not “need” vapes from acquiring them and commencing a life-long subscription to the tobacco industry club. The government may also want to protect itself (and potentially the industry) from liability if additional risks of vaping are discovered in the future which could give rise to lawsuits like Dianne Castano’s. The law should hopefully set in progress further regulation of the vaping industry, which has escaped many of the regulations required of cigarettes because the Therapeutic Goods Administration has not yet approved any vaping products, even as aids to quit smoking.
“But, wait! Won’t making vapes harder to lawfully acquire create a black market? Surely vaping has become too widespread and it’ll be just like the Prohibition era, ” says the other side of the often circular criminalisation-legalisation debate. Well, most likely yes. But for my part the benefits outweigh the costs. If a person really wants to do something illegal, they will do it. If someone (let’s say a 16 year old who has developed an addiction to vapes) really wants to vape, there will be a market for vapes that can be illegally acquired. However, the new law will likely prevent any risk of a group of friends, who happen to stumble across a box of vapes being displayed (illegally) at EzyMart and try them out, getting hooked on nicotine. The law will prevent curiosity from killing the cat. The law will also create a degree of social pressure on people who continue to vape without a medical reason despite its illegality. Young people, especially children, are morally sensitive creatures, and this can go a long way to unseating patterns of behaviour. Patterns of behaviour, I should add, which are not the fault of young people themselves, but rather the shameful, exploitative practices of the tobacco industry. Australian society as a whole is so close to stamping out the toxic vice of cigarettes, and the new law is a step in the right direction for applying the same approach to vaping.
In the months to come, we will see what the exact effect of the new law is on the regulated and unregulated distribution of vapes in Australia. But the law undoubtedly represents a victory: a victory against the misleading, deceptive practices of the tobacco industry; a victory for young people who (hopefully) will be far less likely to pick up a stig, and a victory for the next generation, who will grow up with a more accurate understanding of the dangers of vaping, and will commit to a smoke-free life, as the filthy cesspit of the tobacco industry finally succumbs to its own cancer.
NB: Any reference to “vape” or “electronic cigarette” in this article describes a vape or electronic cigarette that contains nicotine. While still highly problematic, vapes that do not contain nicotine are not affected by the new laws and are still legal to purchase in NSW.
Research sources for this article: