The real reason we have an explosion in teen vaping and illegal retail

In his latest opinion piece, AACS CEO Theo Foukkare discusses the explosion of black market vaping products, including Uber drivers advertising vapers in vehicles.

Theo Foukkare, CEO of the Australian Convenience Stores Association.

Vaping, both with nicotine and without nicotine, is now a very real talking point for many Australians, some for and some against. I’m not a doctor or health care professional, so I’m not going to get into a debate about the perspective of health, whether positive or negative. On the “for” side, it is widely used by consenting adults globally and locally as a transition to quitting smoking and changing their behavior. On the “cons” side, the biggest problem we all face is teen vaping, whether at school, at home, or just socializing with their teenage friends.

Most parents talk about it at their weekend barbecue with family or friends, many schools talk to parents and students to help educate against vaping, and their media reports talk about the social impact, long-term effects and widespread availability.

What is not reported or widely known is the real reason we have this exploding problem. The real problem is the catastrophic regulatory failure.

The feds may think vaping is hard, but just looking on the streets, schools, and the internet, government policy is a laughing stock, it’s a complete failure.

Dodgy retailers sell vapes everywhere, including places where it’s easy for kids to buy them. And unfortunately, these retailers have very different ethics and morals and do not practice responsible retailing to 18+ with ID only. Additionally, you can go online and find a whole universe of vaping products on offer, many of which contain nicotine and are clearly marketed to young people. Tik Tok, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, where children spend hours every day of the week, help increase availability.

And now Uber drivers are selling them as a side hustle. I’ve seen a lot in my career in retail, but seeing an Uber driver advertising vapes with a neon sign on the dashboard takes things to a new level of chaos that’s out of control .

I am convinced that this is the result of the federal government’s authoritarian, prescription-only regime for the purchase of nicotine vaping products. As we know, excessive regulation or essential prohibition drives things underground and into the illegal black market.

The black market is exploding because of prescription politics. And a thriving black market makes it easy for kids to access products — vendors are smart traders, and they sell them in a variety of ways, including now, it seems, in Ubers. Accessibility has never been greater.

Responsible and legitimate retailers in Australia have a role to play in limiting access to children, just as we have played in reducing access to cigarettes for minors. Kids shouldn’t vape, period. But adults often want to smoke cigarettes instead. Unfortunately, they buy them online, from law-breaking retailers, from foreign websites – the list goes on and on.

Australia is in stark contrast to countries like New Zealand and the UK, which are making great strides in responsible retailing of nicotine vaping products, and I don’t see any panic about vapes in schools there.

The black market genie is out of the bottle. It’s already too big for the police, and it’s even very difficult for the police to enforce it with all the bureaucracy that exists. If the government wants to get rid of them, they have to put nicotine vaping products on sale in regular stores, and people have to show ID. This way, any sale of nicotine vaping products to minors will clearly be illegal.

Consumers visit all types of retail outlets to ask questions about nicotine vaping products, only to be turned down or, if desperate, they might end up buying a pack of cigarettes. When retailers refuse them, where do you think they go? They go straight to the internet, dodgy retailers break the law, or maybe hop in an Uber.

About Margaret Shaw

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