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Vape imports from China to Australia plummet ahead of Albanese Government ban

Headshot of Remy Varga
Remy Varga
The Nightly
Pharmacies will be able to sell vapes with a prescription from tomorrow, but many major chains have opposed the new laws.

Imports of vapes from China to Australia have plummeted over the months ahead of a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes as part of a regulatory overhaul by the Albanese Government.

Major tobacco companies including Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco have also pulled the online sale in Australia of their vaping products.

However, black market e-cigarettes continue to be sold on Facebook’s e-commerce platform Marketplace in a blatant breach of new laws as well as at some convenience stores and tobacconists.

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China exported about 28 tonnes of e-cigarettes to Australia in March, according to the Chinese General Administration of Customs, a year-on-year decline of 96.6 per cent and a 55-per cent drop month-on-month.

The unit price of imported Chinese vapes has also fallen by 22.6 per cent to $40.81 per kilogram.

The majority of disposable vapes sold in Australia, lawfully or otherwise, are manufactured in China.

From Monday only pharmacies are permitted to sell vapes containing nicotine after the Albanese government last week struck a deal with the Greens to water down reforms.

Vapes, which were previously brightly coloured and flavoured like lollies, can now only be sold in plain packaging like cigarettes with flavours limited to mint, menthol and tobacco. A previous measure requiring pharmacies to stock vapes has also been scrapped after opposition from the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.

Health Minister Mark Butler said vaping was a “public health nemesis” and a tool used by tobacco companies to hook a new generation on the highly addictive chemical nicotine.

“We are deadly serious about these reforms because they are critically important to the health of young Australians,” he said.

From October 1 people will be allowed to buy vapes from pharmacies without a prescription but will be required to have a conversation with a pharmacist, similar to medication like the contraceptive pill.

A key issue with the former regulatory model was that enforcement was left to state and territory health agencies and the policing of the black market largely failed.

The Albanese Government on Monday appointed ABF assistant commissioner Erin Dale as interim Illicit Tobacco and E-Cigarette Commissioner to coordinate enforcement efforts of black market tobacco and e-cigarettes.

Ms Dale said the ABF was detecting an increasing amount of illicit tobacco and black market vapes at Australian ports.

“There is a common misconception that this crime is a victimless crime,” she said.

“But it’s far from it. The profits made by criminal syndicates actually go on to do other criminal activities like drug importation, firearms, and violence on the street.”

The Nightly on Monday found a number of sellers spruiking vapes on Facebook Marketplace after searching using a few codewords.

A ban on the importation of disposable vapes into Australia came into effect on January 1 this year while the importation of all non-therapeutic vapes has been banned since March 1.

However, a black market flourished under a previously flawed regulatory model, with vapes and e-cigarettes sold for years in plain sight of authorities.

The ABF and the Therapeutic Goods Administration have jointly seized nearly 3 million vapes since an import ban came into effect on January 1.

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