CANBERRA, Australia ( Associated Press) – Australia will increase tobacco taxes by billions of dollars over the next four years as part of a government campaign against vaping and cigarette smoking.
Health Minister Mark Butler said on Tuesday that recreational vaping would be banned in a government effort to prevent nicotine addiction in the next generation.
He said the tobacco tax would increase by 5% each year from September, a total increase of 3.3 billion Australian dollars (US$2.2 billion) over four years. It follows A$234 million (US$157 million) to tighten regulation of e-cigarettes, including new controls on their import and packaging.
The government will continue to work with states and territories to end the sale of vapers in retail and grocery stores and make it easier to prescribe them for medical purposes.
To address the growing black market, the government will raise product standards for vapers, including restricting flavors and dyes. This would require pharmaceutical-style packaging, reduce the maximum strength and amount of nicotine allowed, and ban single-use vapers.
To give an idea of the scale of the public health problem, Butler cited records of alerts to the Victorian state toxicology hotline about children under the age of four who had used a vape.
“It’s a product aimed at our kids,” Butler said. “Vaping has become the number one behavior problem in high schools, and it is becoming more widespread in elementary schools. It must end.”
Butler said the hard-fought public health gains associated with less smoking could be lost to a “new threat”.
Steve Robson, president of the Australian Medical Association, the country’s main medical group, supported the move. “We know a new generation of Australians are getting addicted to vaping and this is a great initiative,” he said.
Erin Lalor, director general of the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, said the majority of people in Australia use unregulated products and have no idea what’s in them.
“Some people who smoke, including youth, are unknowingly consuming nicotine and have developed a dependence,” he said.
The authority will launch a $63 million public health campaign to discourage people from vaping and encourage existing vapers to quit. An additional A$30 million will be invested in programs to help stop vaping, while health workers will receive training on tobacco and nicotine cessation. The government will allocate another $140 million to help Indigenous peoples quit smoking, expanding to include vaping.
According to government data, Australia has one of the lowest smoking rates among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, with 11.2% of Australians aged 15 and over smoking in 2019.