Enough smoke and mirrors – let’s just get on with vaping laws to stop this epidemic

The verdict is in – vaping by children as young as 8 must be outlawed immediately to avoid a growing health crisis within our schools. The Premier simply has to act decisively, writes Madonna King

Mar 16, 2023, updated Mar 16, 2023
The state government has been urged to act immediately against vaping for young Queenslanders.  (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

The state government has been urged to act immediately against vaping for young Queenslanders. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

This is a genuine attempt to save our Queensland MPs time, taxpayers money, and the lives of many of our teenagers.

We do not need another inquiry into vaping. We just need the Government to act.

Every rationale for this inquiry, announced by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, and every question posed by her MPs has already been answered elsewhere in Australia, and even by the Government’s own health officials. Indeed, Australia is bubbling over with a wealth of research on vaping, as well as what needs to be done to stem it.

Thousands of children have been canvassed, huge university studies have been conducted with the help of philanthropists and cancer organisations, new laws have been introduced in some states, and a tsunami of recommendations is sitting in MPs in-trays, around the country.

So why are we having another inquiry? Do we want to delay actually making another decision? Or do we want to cherry pick those recommendations we want, and announce them in the rundown to an election?

If Annastacia Palaszczuk is genuinely unaware of all that research, by global experts, she could also just pick up the phone to a Brisbane school principal today.

And she’ll hear that children as young as eight are now sucking on cancer sticks that taste like apple pie and blueberry, bubblegum and raspberry.

She will be told that most teachers are stopping groups of children from vaping, on average, twice a week now.

Without any political inquiry, they will show her budgets that are being redone to revamp whole toilet blocks to allow vaping to be policed easier.

Some principals might explain to her how they are confused over legal advice from her own government – are schools allowed to set up CCTV cameras to monitor use? Or does that breach a student’s privacy?

Educators will tell her, too, how vaping retail stores are popping up like mushrooms; in one case three retailers have opened on three of the four corners, surrounding a school.

That’s the view of our schools, and a simple telephone call or two, will deliver that information.

But Australia also boasts some of the globe’s experts in this area – and if the Government wants to know how insidious this problem is, they are ready to take a call.

Research in other states and by the Commonwealth already shows that one vape can have the equivalent of 200 packets of cigarettes, that one-third of children are buying vapes over the counter, but another 50 percent are buying them from a school yard friend or ‘dealer’.

That should scare every parent. Those experts will also explain the 200-odd ingredients that can be found in vapes, even though the label does not include them all. In some cases it includes metal, and car engine coolant, and in many cases those that are billed ‘nicotine-free’ will contain significant amounts of nicotine.

The premier will find out, without a gaggle of politicians sitting around discussing something they are likely to mistake for a highlighter (because vapes are made to look ‘cool’), that 13-year-olds are now asking for help to stop, and that many have a vape by their bed, so they can inhale deeply, at some point during the night.

This is an epidemic. It’s not something that started last week. And we don’t need an inquiry into something health experts have now been warning about for a decade. We know the problem. And experts also point to a solution.

Why doesn’t the State Government lead the nation and make it illegal to sell any vape at any retailer anywhere in Queensland. No exception. At the moment, vapes containing nicotine are banned – but every piece of research into this shows that nicotine often is simply not listed by the manufacturer as an ingredient.

If an adult – not a child – genuinely requires a vape as part of ceasing smoking, then why not legislate so that they must seek a medical prescription and only have it filled at a pharmacy. Doctors providing them without reason should face disciplinary action.

That’s the first recommendation which would outlaw the source of most vapes now being found in Queensland schoolbags.

And given that the Commonwealth is looking at vaping too, why not encourage the prime minister to announce an almighty crackdown on the black market of those vapes, streaming in from China?

There are two simple recommendations that – according to every health expert I spoke to this week – would make a herculean difference to a trajectory that currently has 50 percent of Australia’s youth addicted to nicotine by 2030.

The State Government doesn’t need any political inquiry to make that happen. But it does mean it will have to take on the big industry money behind vaping, which is surreptitiously now running ads across social media and attacking journalists and academics who write or speak out against this new cancer.

Does the Government have the commitment and courage to do that?

And what can parents do? I asked several experts that question too – and the answer was unanimous.

Show your child the evidence, from credible sources, of how this will change their lives. Tell them they can’t hate smoking, and like vaping. And to believe science, like they do with climate change, over the friends they meet in the toilet.

And pick up the phone to your local MP – not to support this inquiry, but to tell the Palaszczuk Government to act now on the advice it already has in front of it.

Madonna King has been paid by school communities to talk about the dangers of vaping, which is also covered in her books about challenges facing teenagers. She was also paid to facilitate a forum run this week by the NSW Cancer Council.



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