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‘I’m like a fine wine connoisseur’: the vapers fuming at Australia’s tough new laws and lack of flavours | Health

Politics‘I’m like a fine wine connoisseur’: the vapers fuming at Australia’s tough new laws and lack of flavours | Health

While many might see vaping as a grotesque threat to the health of young people, and will welcome the so-called toughest vape laws in the world, seasoned vapers beg to differ.

Mark* has been vaping for more than 15 years. He used the device to break a 15-year, two-pack-a-day addiction to cigarettes. He loves his vapes. Mark says the new laws, which kick in on 1 July, are infantilising, contradictory and a backwards step.

“Vaping is one of my greatest passions, I’m like a fine wine connoisseur or chef. And these changes make me angry and disheartened.

Australia’s new ‘world-leading’ vaping laws are nearly here, and very watered down – video

“I am 52 years old and can’t make a mature and informed decision on how I take nicotine. Yet the government allows cigarettes, alcohol, sugary products, gambling and other harmful activities to take place unfettered,” he says.

Mark, like all of the vapers Guardian Australia spoke to for this story, asked for his name to be changed.

Many of the vape users interviewed either expressed surprise at the new laws or claimed the changes were unfair and would serve to create a new black market. Health experts say the black market claims, an argument frequently touted by the tobacco, vaping and retail industries, are wrong.

The looming reforms mean vapes can only be sold to adults, and only at pharmacies. Between July and October, users must have a prescription to buy a vape.

But after October the laws loosen and no prescription will be needed. Instead, to buy a vape, people will have to show ID proving they are 18 or older. They will also need to speak with a pharmacist about their vape use.

The vapes will come in plain packaging, and the reforms will ban all flavours, apart from mint, menthol and tobacco. The changes are intended to cut the appeal to young people, but it is a change that is galling to many vapers.

Mark says he just “didn’t like the flavour” of tobacco-flavoured vapes, and the changes would force him into the black market.

“Firstly, it doesn’t really taste like tobacco,” he says. “It’s a terrible translation of what tobacco tastes like. I like the vape flavours, they are unfairly portrayed as being aimed at children but the truth is most adult vapers love the assortment of flavours.

“I won’t go back to cigarettes, but some of my friends who converted to vaping have already started to smoke again,” he added.

The reforms were announced on Monday, after Labor struck a deal with the Greens to get some watered-down reforms through parliament.

The reforms promise tough penalties for unlicensed shops caught selling illegal vapes, and will be enforced from Monday 1 July.

While e-cigarettes may be beneficial for smokers who use them to completely and promptly quit smoking, they are not currently approved smoking cessation aids. They should be combined with behavioural support, clinical guidelines say. Most smokers who successfully quit do so without cessation aids.

Mariam* only started vaping in the past couple of months. The 34-year-old picked up the habit as a way to deal with her anxiety.

She was unaware of the reforms, she says, and was not convinced they would impact her habit.

“I vape alongside some mums at school drop-off. I find it helpful with anxiety and to manage my binge eating.

“I discovered a brand I liked and it has worked. I know lots of people who quit smoking because of vapes, and I doubt these changes will impact them much.”

Many of the vape users the Guardian spoke to said they would turn to the black market to maintain their supply of colourful, flavoured e-cigarettes.

In the last financial year, the Australian Taxation Office made 170 illegal tobacco seizures, worth around $43m. Since the 2018-19 financial year, $721m worth of illegal tobacco has been seized by authorities. It is uncertain how the new laws will impact the underground trade.

Jacob* says he knows of “at least six shops” around him that sell illegal tobacco, and is confident they will eventually stock illegal vapes.

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“If the government give me no choice in what I vape and when, then why would I pay them taxes in the long run?

He says the move by Labor will have some “very, very negative effects” on the wider community, “not least of all making the black market bigger”.

Jacob, 39, has used vapes to break an addiction to cigarettes he picked up when he was just 13 years old.

“I tried everything under the sun, and then I found vaping. It was the only thing that helped me move away from smoking, plus it helps me with my mental health as well.”

He particularly laments the restrictions on flavours, saying “adults have taste buds too”.

“Not everyone likes mint or tobacco flavours … They are just pushing so many people back on to cigarettes, its ridiculous.”

But the Australian Medical Association warns vaping is “extremely harmful” and evidence shows it can cause nicotine dependence. It says vapes contain a range of harmful substances including formaldehyde, chlorine, mercury and arsenic, which all have long-term impacts on health and can cause cancer.

A study earlier this year found a majority of Australians aged 14 to 39 were worried about the widespread availability of vapes and many supported a ban.

‘This crackdown has just created a massive black market for disposable vapes,’ Reddit user VapingAussie says. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

The reforms have lit up vaping social media groups across different platforms, including on Facebook and Reddit, where many users have criticised the new rules as ineffective or as disconnected from reality.

One user on Reddit, who goes by the name VapingAussie, tells the Guardian the new laws will either result in vapers returning to cigarettes or drive them to buy from illegal sellers.

They say the discourse around vaping is “disconnected from reality,” particularly the issue of young people picking up the habit.

“It was never an issue for me to smoke when I was a kid. No one ever kicked up a stink about it. It was just expected that some kids would start smoking and you can’t do anything to stop them.

“And now this crackdown has just created a massive black market for disposable vapes.”

VapingAussie say they make their own vapes, including devising flavour recipes.

“I make my own sour watermelon and custard doughnut flavours. Tobacco and menthol flavours just don’t sit well with me.

“I don’t want those flavours, if I wanted something to taste like tobacco, I would buy cigarettes.”

*Names have been changed for anonymity

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