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Facebook Marketplace home to peddlers of vapes, nitrous oxides and alcohol in shocking black market revelation

Headshot of Remy Varga
Remy Varga
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Facebook Marketplace has become a breeding ground for the black market sale of illicit products.
Facebook Marketplace has become a breeding ground for the black market sale of illicit products. Credit: The Nightly

Vapes, the 24-hour delivery of nitrous oxide and alcohol are openly being advertised on Facebook’s classified section as the social media behemoth provides a platform for a flourishing black market of harmful substances.

The Nightly has uncovered numerous examples of sellers on Facebook’s Marketplace flouting the law and advertising products in breach of Federal, State and Territory regulations and guidelines.

Public health experts warned the sale of addictive and harmful substances was coming at the expense of kids and teens who were being exposed to harm so black market sellers could make a profit.

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Australian Medical Association president Steve Robson said he was disappointed but not surprised sellers were attempting to sell illicit substances and services on Facebook Marketplace, saying the black market was “shapeshifting”.

“We know whenever there is an illicit substance someone will try and make money,” he said.

“It doesn’t surprise me that there are e-commerce areas where people can track down harmful things and try and sidestep the various regulations on sale and marketing.”

Black market vapes can be easily found on Facebook Marketplace using codewords, which The Nightly has chosen not to publish.

One ad shows a kiwi fruit on ice dissolving into green vapour.

Another shows cardboard boxes with Chinese postage labels that have been scrawled with flavours, including peach and guava.

The majority of disposable vapes are manufactured in China. 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.

Some of the nitrous oxide delivery services on Facebook marketplace.
A picture used to advertise vapes on Facebook marketplace. Credit: The Nightly

University of Sydney Matilda Centre associate professor Emily Stockings said Facebook was another avenue for the black market sale of vapes and nitrous oxide, colloquially known as nangs.

“The problem with that is Facebook is owned by Meta and regulating that for Australia or even for states, because tobacco regulation is largely state-based, would be really difficult,” she said.

“It’s in Meta’s interests to have as many sellers as possible on the platforms.”

Dr Stocking said more or less all vapes contained nicotine, which as well as being highly addictive damaged the developing brains of young people while the chemicals and coolants could harm respiratory health.

Dr Stocking said nicotine was also associated with anxiety, depression as well as poor sleep and school attendance that impacted social relationships.

“If these things aren’t harms I don’t know what is,” she said.

About one and a half million black market vapes have been seized by the Australian Border Force and the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Health Minister Mark Butler is attempting to push through legislation that would make it illegal to import, manufacture, supply, commercially possess, and advertise disposable single-use and non-therapeutic vapes.

Some of the nitrous oxide delivery services on Facebook marketplace.
Some of the nitrous oxide delivery services on Facebook marketplace. Credit: The Nightly

Numerous ads for the online delivery of nitrous oxide, colloquially known as nangs, are also active across Facebook Marketplace.

One ad offered a free tank with the purchase of six tanks while another seller called “Swag King” boasted of having five years of experience in delivery.

Nitrous oxide is not illegal and is used in medical settings as an anesthetic as well as in whipped cream canisters.

But the gas can also be used as a party drug, inducing a short but intense hit to the user.

The recreational use of nitrous oxide, a volatile solvent, can damage the brain, spinal cord, cardiovascular system, kidneys and in extreme cases cause death.

Some of the nitrous oxide delivery services on Facebook marketplace.
Alcohol for sale on Facebook Marketplace. Credit: The Nightly

Alcohol and Drug Foundation spokesperson Rob Taylor said the short-term risk of inhaling nitrous oxide was reduced oxygen intake, which could cause a user to pass out or suffer hypoxia.

“For people who do use heavily the long-term harm is to their nervous system and that can lead to mobility issues,” he said.

A study published in 2023 found that nitrous oxide was implicated in 4.6 per cent of all volatile solvent misuse-related fatalities in Australia in the period 2000–2021.

NSW Health recorded 305 nitrous oxide-related emergency department presentations to public hospitals between January 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023.

Western Australia restricted the sale of nitrous oxide canisters to food and beverage businesses in March this year, the toughest laws in Australia.

The Nightly uncovered a handful of listings for alcohol, the sale of which is tightly regulated and controlled, on Facebook Marketplace — although the sale of liquor appeared less prevalent and established than vapes and nangs.

One seller was spruiking a carton of Iron Jack crisp lager while another was selling packs of Bacardi Rum and Fireball whiskey.

Australian National University professor Emily Banks said alcohol and e-cigarettes were being aggressively marketed at children and adolescents.

“They are highly addictive and that’s a major health issue,” she said.

A Meta spokeswoman said the company would review the items on Facebook Marketplace.

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