Queensland government gets ‘Dirty Ashtray Award’ over e-cigarettes as survey shows widespread community concern about vaping

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New research has found the majority of Queenslanders think e-cigarettes are highly addictive, vaping should be banned in many public places and vape advertising should not be allowed on social media.

The findings come as the state government is criticised by doctors who have jointly awarded Queensland and Victoria this year’s “Dirty Ashtray Award”, for what they say is a failure to licence tobacco retailers and combat the sale of e-cigarettes to children.

E-cigarettes, or vapes, are battery-operated devices that heat a fluid allowing users to inhale the vapour.

Some of them are designed to appeal to children and teenagers through the use of brightly coloured packaging and sweet flavours.

In Australia, vapes containing nicotine are only legally available with a prescription, but in practice it is hard to tell which products contain the damaging and addictive chemical.

Queensland Health says it is illegal to sell vapes to children and teenagers aged under 18, regardless of whether or not they contain nicotine.

A survey of 3,522 Australian adults conducted by the Cancer Council in September, 2021 found 69 per cent of Queenslanders believe e-cigarettes are highly addictive.

Eighty per cent believe vaping should not be allowed on public transport, in pubs, restaurants or other outdoor venues and 68 per cent want promotion of the products on social and digital media to be banned, according to the survey.

‘Widespread community concern’ about vaping

A woman with a dark blazer.
Dr White says Queensland needs to implement a retail licensing scheme to help ensure e-cigarette laws are enforced.(Supplied)

The director of anti-smoking support program Quit, Sarah White, said the results reflected “widespread community concern” about the uptake of vaping.

“We’re seeing really high support for regulation that effectively protects future generations from addiction,” Dr White said.

The Victoria-based tobacco control expert, who has a PhD in paediatric genetics, said the health impacts of e-cigarettes were still emerging.

“Recall it took us 30 to 40 years to find out what all the risks of cigarettes were and e-cigarettes just haven’t been around long enough to know what all of those effects are going to be,” she said.

“But we certainly do know that there’s potential for lung injury – when you inhale from an e-cigarette you’re inhaling fine particles, heavy metals and chemicals and so that’s going to damage the lung.”

A review of the global evidence on the impacts of e-cigarettes was published by researchers from the Australian National University in April, 2022.

Two hands holding a box with a vape inside
The majority of Queenslanders believe e-cigarettes are highly addictive.(ABC Newcastle: Christine Sheridan)

It found there was “conclusive evidence” that e-cigarettes can cause “poisoning, injuries and burns and immediate toxicity through inhalation, including seizures, and that their use leads to addiction and … less serious adverse events, such as throat irritation and nausea.”

It also found “strong evidence” that the devices “increase combustible smoking uptake in non-smokers, particularly youth” and there was “limited evidence” that e-cigarettes containing nicotine help people quit smoking.

Dr White said Queensland needed to implement a retail licensing scheme to help ensure e-cigarette laws are enforced.

“Cancer Council would like to see that enforcement at the state and territory level so that the retailers who are doing the wrong thing by selling e-cigarettes to kids, or selling e-cigarettes that contain nicotine in them, which is illegal, we’d like to see that enforcement really stepped up,” she said.

“We definitely also need the federal government to do more to stop the illegal import of illegal cigarettes containing nicotine.”

Dr White said there also needed to be better awareness that it is illegal to vape in non-smoking indoor and outdoor places.

“Queensland’s done a really good job at introducing smoke-free legislation, so they have really good protections around smoke-free areas,” she said.

“I think it’s really important that people understand that e-cigarettes are supposed to be covered by smoke-free legislation because people are still inhaling all sorts of things from those e-cigarettes and if you’re around someone who’s vaping you’re inhaling that too.”

The ‘award’ no state wants

Woman wearing a black printed top with a red jacket.
Maria Boulton called on the state to enforce existing e-cigarette regulations and implement a licensing system.(ABC News: Michael Lloyd)

Queensland and Victoria were jointly given the 2022 “Dirty Ashtray Award” from the Australian Council on Smoking and Health and the Australian Medical Association (AMA).

AMA Queensland president Maria Boulton called on the state to enforce existing e-cigarette regulations and implement a licensing system.



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