March 3 - 9, 2024: Issue 616


ghosting toxic vapes: Helping Young Australians Learn About The Harms Of Vaping launched as next set of reforms commence + Nicotine pouches are being marketed to young people on social media - But are they safe, or even legal?

The Australian Government’s world leading vaping reforms are progressing, with the next stage of import restrictions taking effect from 1 March, as well as the launch of a government communications campaign targeting youth vaping.

The Australian Government's Department of Health are partnering with media platforms, such as Spotify and Year 13, and well-known influencers including gaming, comedy and lifestyle personalities, to challenge the social acceptance of vaping among young people.

These platforms and personalities will help younger people learn about the harms of vaping and raise awareness of the help available to quit.

Vaping – or the use of e-cigarettes – has been increasing among young people in Australia. 

Data from the Australian Secondary School Students’ Alcohol and Drug Survey (2022–23) show that around 1 in 6 (16%) high school students reported recently vaping. This is a fourfold increase from 4% of high school students in 2017.

Through these partnerships, provided content aims to:
  • meets the needs of young Australians who are curious or concerned about vaping 
  • provides young Australians with credible information about vaping
  • provides support and resources for young people who want to quit or reduce vaping.
Social media is awash with pro-vaping content: misinformation cynically promoted and stoked by the vaping and tobacco industry. TikTok is home to more than 18 billion posts with the hashtag #vape and Instagram is home to more than 18,000 ‘vaping influencer’ profiles solely dedicated to promoting vaping.

Australian Minister for Health Mark Butler said: 
“There is an enormous amount of misinformation and online advertising designed to lure teenagers into vaping.
“Together with the Government’s world leading vaping reforms, education is a key step to stopping Big Tobacco companies from luring a new generation into nicotine dependency.
“It’s pretty clear that teenagers don’t watch TV or listen to Health Ministers, much as I might like them to, which is why we’ve partnered with influencers that young people listen to: from comedians, to sport stars and gamers, and everyone in between.
Ellyse Perry, Cricketer, said :
“I’m excited to be supporting the Australian Government on the vaping education campaign and lending my voice to such a critical health issue.
“As a professional athlete, I know that even occasional vape use would have significant consequences for both mental and physical performance on and off the field.”
Ella Watkins, Actor and content creator said:
“I’m very vocal with friends and family about the negative physical and mental health effects of vaping and I’m really pleased to be joining this campaign and helping to spread such an important message to young Australians.”
Jack Buzza, Gamer and comedian said:
“I know in the gaming and content space, a lot of young people vape without understanding the health consequences of that choice, including the addictive nature of vaping.”
Zahlia Short, Junior professional surfer said:
“As young women, we witness on a regular basis our friends and dear ones be tempted by vaping. Not only do we worry about the health concerns, but we also worry about the environmental concerns.
“The ocean is our second home, and it is also now being affected by vapes. It is time for everyone to be aware of how vaping affects your health and the environment.”

Zahlia and Shyla Short have both supported a family member to quit vaping. They joined Mark Butler at Parliament House to announce the new influencer-led youth vaping campaign - and for a quick meeting with the PM! Photo: Australian Government
Lachlan Fairbairn, Comedian said:
“We know that a lot of our peers vape, so it's important to us that we support a campaign that will educate people on the harms of vaping and help them seek support if they want it.”

The Fairbairn Brothers. Photo: Australian Government.

Since the 1 January ban on the importation of single-use disposable vapes, the Australian Border Force (ABF) and Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) have seized more than 360,000 vapes worth almost $11 million in operations across Australia, with the support of state and territory health agencies and police.
The TGA seized 210,000 vapes in a single operation in February – only 130,000 vapes were seized in all of 2023, before the import ban came into effect.
The next regulations that take effect from 1 March include:

  • the banning of the importation of all vapes without a licence and permit
  • the closure of the personal importation scheme for vapes
  • strengthened quality and safety standards for therapeutic vapes.
In coming weeks, the Government will introduce legislation to prevent domestic manufacture, advertisement, supply and commercial possession of non-therapeutic and disposable single-use vapes to ensure comprehensive controls on vapes across all levels of the supply chain.

Later this year, product standards for therapeutic vapes will be strengthened, including to limit flavours, reduce permissible nicotine concentrations and require pharmaceutical packaging. 

dedicated web hub provide reliable information about vaping. It contains resources and links to support services to help young people trying to reduce or quit vaping.

Nicotine pouches are being marketed to young people on social media. But are they safe, or even legal?

Piskova Photo/Shutterstock
Becky Freeman, University of Sydney

Flavoured nicotine pouches are being promoted to young people on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.

Although some viral videos have been taken down following a series of reports in The Guardian, clips featuring Australian influencers have claimed nicotine pouches are a safe and effective way to quit vaping. A number of the videos have included links to websites selling these products.

With the rapid rise in youth vaping and the subsequent implementation of several reforms to restrict access to vaping products, it’s not entirely surprising the tobacco industry is introducing more products to maintain its future revenue stream.

The major trans-national tobacco companies, including Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco, all manufacture nicotine pouches. British American Tobacco’s brand of nicotine pouches, Velo, is a leading sponsor of the McLaren Formula 1 team.

But what are nicotine pouches, and are they even legal in Australia?

Like snus, but different

Nicotine pouches are available in many countries around the world, and their sales are increasing rapidly, especially among young people.

Nicotine pouches look a bit like small tea bags and are placed between the lip and gum. They’re typically sold in small, colourful tins of about 15 to 20 pouches. While the pouches don’t contain tobacco, they do contain nicotine that is either extracted from tobacco plants or made synthetically. The pouches come in a wide range of strengths.

As well as nicotine, the pouches commonly contain plant fibres (in place of tobacco, plant fibres serve as a filler and give the pouches shape), sweeteners and flavours. Just like for vaping products, there’s a vast array of pouch flavours available including different varieties of fruit, confectionery, spices and drinks.

The range of appealing flavours, as well as the fact they can be used discreetly, may make nicotine pouches particularity attractive to young people.

Two teenage girls vaping on a blanket in a park.
Vaping has recently been subject to tighter regulation in Australia. Aleksandr Yu/Shutterstock

Users absorb the nicotine in their mouths and simply replace the pouch when all the nicotine has been absorbed. Tobacco-free nicotine pouches are a relatively recent product, but similar style products that do contain tobacco, known as snus, have been popular in Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden, for decades.

Snus and nicotine pouches are however different products. And given snus contains tobacco and nicotine pouches don’t, the products are subject to quite different regulations in Australia.

What does the law say?

Pouches that contain tobacco, like snus, have been banned in Australia since 1991, as part of a consumer product ban on all forms of smokeless tobacco products. This means other smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco, snuff, and dissolvable tobacco sticks or tablets, are also banned from sale in Australia.

Tobacco-free nicotine pouches cannot legally be sold by general retailers, like tobacconists and convenience stores, in Australia either. But the reasons for this are more complex.

In Australia, under the Poisons Standard, nicotine is a prescription-only medicine, with two exceptions. Nicotine can be used in tobacco prepared and packed for smoking, such as cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco, and cigars, as well as in preparations for therapeutic use as a smoking cessation aid, such as nicotine patches, gum, mouth spray and lozenges.

If a nicotine-containing product does not meet either of these two exceptions, it cannot be legally sold by general retailers. No nicotine pouches have currently been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration as a therapeutic aid in smoking cessation, so in short they’re not legal to sell in Australia.

However, nicotine pouches can be legally imported for personal use only if users have a prescription from a medical professional who can assess if the product is appropriate for individual use.

We only have anecdotal reports of nicotine pouch use, not hard data, as these products are very new in Australia. But we do know authorities are increasingly seizing these products from retailers. It’s highly unlikely any young people using nicotine pouches are accessing them through legal channels.

Health concerns

Nicotine exposure may induce effects including dizziness, headache, nausea and abdominal cramps, especially among people who don’t normally smoke or vape.

Although we don’t yet have much evidence on the long term health effects of nicotine pouches, we know nicotine is addictive and harmful to health. For example, it can cause problems in the cardiovascular system (such as heart arrhythmia), particularly at high doses. It may also have negative effects on adolescent brain development.

The nicotine contents of some of the nicotine pouches on the market is alarmingly high. Certain brands offer pouches containing more than 10mg of nicotine, which is similar to a cigarette. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, pouches deliver enough nicotine to induce and sustain nicotine addiction.

Pouches are also being marketed as a product to use when it’s not possible to vape or smoke, such as on a plane. So instead of helping a person quit they may be used in addition to smoking and vaping. And importantly, there’s no clear evidence pouches are an effective smoking or vaping cessation aid.

A Velo product display at Dubai airport in October 2022.
A Velo product display at Dubai airport in October 2022. Nicotine pouches are marketed as safe to use on planes. Becky Freeman

Further, some nicotine pouches, despite being tobacco-free, still contain tobacco-specific nitrosamines. These compounds can damage DNA, and with long term exposure, can cause cancer.

Overall, there’s limited data on the harms of nicotine pouches because they’ve been on the market for only a short time. But the WHO recommends a cautious approach given their similarities to smokeless tobacco products.

For anyone wanting advice and support to quit smoking or vaping, it’s best to talk to your doctor or pharmacist, or access trusted sources such as Quitline or the iCanQuit website.The Conversation

Becky Freeman, Associate Professor, School of Public Health, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.