Vaping and Public Policy

Nick Wallis

After six years of observing regressive vaporiser and nicotine policy and some pretty shocking prosecutions, you do start to wonder whether some of the older generation in public health drank the infamous ‘Kool-Aid’ made famous by Tom Wolfe in his groundbreaking 1960’s book, the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

vince2-950x650Back in 2011, a West Australian vape retailer, Vince Van Heerden of Heavenly Vapes, experienced the full force of these defenders of health first hand. A discrete court order for search and seizure was obtained by the WA Department of Health, who sent three black SUV’s to his residence and spent an hour and a half ransacking his place, putting all of his hardware into big, black garbage bags. There was no warning for Vince or his family. Over the next five years, Vince spent over $100,000 battling the WA Department of Health over vaporisers. And in the end, he lost.

What happened?

Like several Australian states, Western Australia’s tobacco control legislation has a small section in it to prohibit the sale of products that, ‘resemble a tobacco product, but are not one’. These laws were added to tobacco controls to try and stop what public health experts saw as subversive marketing of cigarettes, through candy products such as fads, or toy cigarettes or anything else that might get into the hands of children and start them mimicking smoking behaviour.

So here’s a law that is intended to protect children from mimicking cigarette smoking behaviour, which is being used to prosecute an adults-only business selling products that give smokers an alternative to tobacco.

In 2014 the Judge presiding over the case found in favour of the prosecution, expanding the conclusion to determine that in effect, any product that involves a hand-to-mouth action and results in the expulsion of ‘vapour’ does, in fact, resemble a tobacco product.

Let’s just remind ourselves here for a moment that vaporisers and the fluids they use, that sold in Australia, do not contain nicotine. Nicotine is a scheduled poison and requires a doctor’s prescription for people to be able to access it (unless its in the form of a cigarette). There has been an urban myth floating around recently that suggests people can legally import personal amounts of nicotine. It appears that in these cases, people generally still need to obtain a prescription – even though this may or may not be enforced.


The devices we are talking about contain none of the components that tobacco contains and yet politicians are happy to make laws saying they ‘resemble’ tobacco products. From that madness they then justify $100,000 fines and public funding of five year court cases aimed at prohibiting these devices – all the while protecting the market for smoked tobacco. It sounds like the sort of politics you get from a third world dictatorship but no….it’s Australia’s State of Excitement in 2016.

Vaporisers are products that are targeted at adults and based on new technology that is designed to reduce the harmful effect of smoking –  while still giving people a similar experience to smoking. They are banned because they are said to resemble the far more dangerous product they are trying to displace. Welcome to the politically correct and illogical world of modern public health policy!

Across Australia, states and territories have passed laws that equate the use of a vaporiser to using a cigarette. Public62e1d39c2033e98948810bf2ce2e0616 health officials argue the inconsistencies of their position by saying they don’t want to undo the good work of tobacco controls. Yet tobacco is still a widely available product that many Australians choose to use, despite all the efforts to get them to stop. Perhaps there’s a missed lesson in this? Perhaps there is some percentage of the population that no matter how well they are educated, no matter how many messages featuring rotten teeth and cancerous limbs are put to them to change their behaviour, they won’t. Maybe there are going to be roughly five per cent of the population who will seek out and consume tobacco no matter what.

There is something admirable and important about those who seek to rectify wrongs, such as informing a previously uninformed market of the risks of a product they are consuming. Also admirable is assisting vulnerable people and making sure they aren’t being taking advantage of by big multinational companies. But treating everyone as if their decisions, their choices and their thoughts are irrelevant unless they fall in line with the orthodoxy? That’s just authoritarian.

Many smokers have shared their stories online and offline about how using vaporisers has helped them reduce or cease their use of tobacco. Mid-way through 2015, the UK’s Public Health stated that their current estimate of the evidence showed vaporising to be 95% less harmful than smoking. Of course it follows that completely abstaining would give a 100% success rate, but this sort of absolutist thinking doesn’t allow people to make their own choices.

Vaporisers are pieces of technology, designed to vaporise liquids, often containing a chemical flavour in a base of vegetable glycerine or propylene glycol. Ideally, they would also contain a specific concentration of nicotine. The device quickly heats the liquid, turning it into a vapour which can be inhaled. Most vaporisers are customisable products, with options for different battery packs, cartridges, mouthpieces, atomiser, wick and chamber.

Innovation in these industries should not be discouraged just because there may be some harms involved. The people who are in these industries are usually there because of a passion and often want to make things better for everyone. This is the cornerstone of good capitalism. Unfortunately, it is being undermined by those who would prefer that we made only choices that they approve of.

nick_w_bigNick Wallis worked for several years in regional commercial radio before returning to Melbourne and working in radio sponsorship sales and media monitoring. Nick began a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at La Trobe University and also started producing a podcast focusing on the many issues surrounding drugs, which partly lead to him being hired by the Eros Association. Running as a candidate for the Australian Sex Party in the 2013 federal election and 2014 Victorian election, Nick is passionate about protecting people’s civil liberties.

Nick volunteers for peer-education program DanceWize, which provides harm reduction information for people who use drugs. DanceWize is a program maintained by Harm Reduction Victoria and from 2014-2016, Nick sat on the board. Nick recently became a father and will be presenting a Melbourne radio show Enpsychedelia similar to the podcast on 3CR 855AM.