19 October 2021

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:26): [by video link] My question is to Senator Colbeck, representing the minister for health, and it relates to tobacco control and non-nicotine vaping products. Minister, non-nicotine e-cigarettes are not therapeutic goods and, as such, do not come under the purview of the TGA; they are classed as consumer goods. New Australian research, from Curtin University, shows that flavourings and other additives in so-called nicotine-free e-cigarettes are harmful and include cancer-causing substances, pesticides, heavy metals and even the addition of nicotine in many instances. Does the government hold concern that these easily available consumer products are toxic and potentially carcinogenic, particularly given the take-up of these products by teenagers?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Sport and Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services) (14:27): I thank Senator Griff for the question. The government remains vigilant to the development of and the emerging non-tobacco devices that have the potential to normalise smoking behaviours amongst children and young adults, where the risk of harm of such products is not yet fully understood or known. These non-nicotine products, as you have indicated, are not regulated through the health system but regulated by the Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme, AICIS, or what used to be known as NICNAS. It categorises their introduction into one of five categories, and I can refer you to the AICIS website for the information on non-nicotine liquids for vaping devices.

The regulation of the domestic sale and supply of non-nicotine vaping products and devices is in fact done by states and territories under their respective tobacco laws and regulations. In Western Australia, for example, products that resemble tobacco products, including e-cigarette devices, whether or not they contain nicotine, cannot be sold by tobacco or general retailers.

Senator GRIFF: Minister, vaping in school-age teens is a well-recognised problem, and the research has shown that both nicotine and non-nicotine vapes can act as a gateway to tobacco use. What assistance is the federal government offering the states, or are you aware of any plans to offer the states assistance to actually tackle this?

Senator COLBECK: The Commonwealth government continues to work with the states with respect to tobacco and non-tobacco control measures. Obviously, the Australian Industrial Chemical Introduction Scheme is a combination of what were formerly state and territory regulatory frameworks into a national one, and so, in that context, we continue to work with the states. We acknowledge the research that's recently been done by Lung Foundation Australia, and Minderoo, which tested the ingredients and toxicity of 52 e-liquids for sale over the counter in Australia in both their origin and vaped form. It found that 100 per cent of e-liquids have between one and 18 chemicals that have unknown effects on respiratory health. We continue to work closely with the states and territories in the regulation of this matter.

Senator GRIFF: Thank you, Minister, but I can gather, from your answer, that the Commonwealth isn't working with the states in relation to the issue with school-aged teens, but perhaps we'll discuss that separately. Does the government consider it is time to reinvigorate its antitobacco campaigns which, historically, have helped Australians drive down smoking rates to some of the best in the world?

Senator COLBECK: I acknowledge that campaigns that have been run over many years have in fact achieved the results that Senator Griff has indicated. A strong and continued message, one that is appropriately targeted—particularly towards young Australians and those communities where we still see unacceptably high rates of smoking, but also use of some of these new technologies—is something that we, at a Commonwealth level, need to continue to work on with the states and territories to ensure that people understand the harms. I mentioned the research that has recently been published by the Lung Foundation, which provides some level of alertness to that. Communicating that information and continuing the program to encourage people to give up smoking and these other technologies is one we need to continue to work on.

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