While Australia’s vape ban on all recreational vaping in a huge crackdown on illegal sales, the UK government’s support for e-cigarettes remains firm and is one of the key measures to help make Britain "smoke-free" by 2030.
In stark contrast to the vaping Australia ban Down Under - where the government has announced e-cigarettes will be available on prescription only - Britain has ramped up its support of vaping in recent months and is handing out a million free vape kits to smokers in England.
Many health experts and MPs in the UK agree that while teenage vaping must be addressed urgently, a vape ban could lead to a huge black market in unregulated vapes. The government also supports Public Health England’s (now UK Health Security Agency) report that regulated vapes are likely "95 percent safer" compared to cigarette smoking.
Australia, meanwhile, will soon see the importation and sale of all e-cigarettes, both nicotine or not, banned from sale - unless supplied by prescription through a licensed pharmacist and in medical-style packaging.
Federal health Minister Mark Butler said the target was not consumers but importers and vendors. Nicotine-free vapes have been legally available at petrol stations, local stores and other retailers since October 2021 when Australia outlawed selling nicotine vapes in shops. But due to a thriving black market and lax border controls, many on public sale have been found to contain nicotine still.
There are also concerns that sellers have been targeting under 18-year-olds too with bright, child-like packaging and allowing underage sales.
However, some politicians and health professionals think Australia should relax laws instead, with Nationals senator Ross Cadell warning that Australia had already "lost this war", and that prohibition with a vape ban would only further grow the vaping black market.
"Is the minister in such a haze that he doesn’t recognise that multinational organised crime gangs are behind the illegal manufacturing, importation, and distribution of this stuff to our kids? Does he think that some crime boss is going to change his packaging, ingredients, and distribution because he says so?"
But while vaping in Australia is to be outlawed, except on prescription, Butler has said there is no plan to follow New Zealand in banning cigarettes, despite public health experts calling on the government and it remaining the leading preventable death and disease in Australia.
The new reforms however could take some time to implement as the commonwealth, states and territories are still working on the precise terms of the regulations and new legislation will be required, along with a possible transition period.
The UK government meanwhile has reiterated its support in providing widely-available e-cigarettes as a way for people to switch away from smoking, recognising it as an effective harm-reduction tool.
Minister Neil O’Brien said in a speech last month there were a number of measures which the UK would be rolling out to achieve a “smoke-free 2030 ” and vaping was amongst them.
And in a new step last month, the world’s first “swap-to-stop ” scheme will see a million smokers in England given a free vaping kit, with a choice of products, strengths and flavours on offer to find the best product for each person.
Pregnant women will also be given a cash incentive in the form of vouchers - totalling up to around £400 - alongside behavioural support to stop smoking and try vaping instead.
The decision is based on research which shows vaping has been found to be less harmful than cigarettes because it doesn’t produce tar or carbon monoxide, which are the two most harmful products found in burning tobacco.
Measures to stop children and non-smokers taking up vaping in the first place are also being tackled which includes a crackdown on illicit vape sales.
“Up to two out of three lifelong smokers will die from smoking. Cigarettes are the only product on sale which will kill if used correctly. We will offer a million smokers new help to quit. We will be funding a new national ‘swap to stop’ scheme – the first of its kind in the world.”
Funding for the Swap-to-Stop scheme – estimated by officials to cost around £45m over two years – will come from the Department of Health and Social Care’s budget.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the Action on Smoking and Health campaign, said:
“Vapes increase smokers’ chances of successfully quitting, as do vouchers for pregnant smokers, so these are welcome steps in the right direction, but they are nowhere near sufficient.”
Previous NHS pilot schemes where starter kits were given to help even “entrenched ” smokers switch away from cigarettes, had shown encouraging results - with 42% of those invited to take part, redeeming their voucher and switching to vape within a month.
Prof Caitlin Notley, lead researcher and addiction expert from the UEA’s Norwich Medical School, which ran a pilot for over 680 smokers said:
“This innovative approach saw the NHS local stop smoking service, vape retailers and researchers working together, recognising that other forms of smoking cessation support do not work for everyone.”
“This scheme enabled 42 per cent of entrenched smokers who redeemed a voucher to have successfully quit smoking at four weeks. This is especially important because it helped those who have tried and failed to quit smoking many times to move away from tobacco.”
It came after the UK’s Health Security Agency (formerly Public Health Agency) said more needed to be done to educate smokers on the alternatives available.
It explained in its report:
“Smoking remains the largest single risk factor for death and years of life lived in ill-health and is a leading cause of health inequalities in England and in other parts of the world.”
“Alternative nicotine delivery devices, such as nicotine vaping products, could play a crucial role in reducing the enormous health burden caused by cigarette smoking.”