There are way too many drugs in our schools.
The Courier Mail has performed a public service this week by highlighting the scourge of vaping that is emerging as a new harmful drug being pushed to our children.
Despite the dismissive attitude of the Labor State Education Minister, Grace Grace, more needs to be done to tackle vaping in schools.
Any effective response, however, must recognise the policies that work and those that do not.
The liquid nicotine used in vapes is already illegal in Australia.
Liquid nicotine cannot be sold in most retail settings (apart from some limited products in pharmacies), and can only be imported with a prescription. Despite these restrictions, our current blanket “prohibition” approach has failed to stop vaping among children.
Like most attempts at prohibition all our rules have done is to encourage a thriving black market, including the sale of candy flavoured vapes that can be attractive to young children.
Australia is an outlier when it comes to the regulation of vaping. We are the only developed country that continues to outlaw the sale of liquid nicotine in retail settings. This is regrettable because we once led the world in reducing the harm caused by tobacco.
We are at risk of losing that mantle, unfortunately, because our health authorities have blindly ignored the mounting evidence that vapes can be an effective way to get people off the much more damaging addiction of smoking.
In the last few years New Zealand has legalised the sale of vape products but with significant restrictions so that these products are kept out of children’s hands. In the past week New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinta Arden said that “We know that vaping is making a difference for those now in order to stop smoking. And so it is an important tool.”
Vaping has been legal in the UK for more than 5 years and it has helped reduce smoking rates there by 5 per cent. In the UK, health authorities provide vapes to pregnant women in hospitals, because smoking is much worse for the baby than e-cigarettes.
The UK has followed the science. A recently published Cochrane Review – the gold standard for reviews of scientific research – concluded that people are 50 per cent more likely to quit smoking through vaping than other quit aids such as gums or patches.
A young mum gave evidence to a senate committee last year about her switch to vaping and how it has improved her relationship with her two young children.
She no longer smells of tobacco around the kids and doesn’t have to pop outside all the time just to have a smoke.
That’s good news because while no one should be encouraged to smoke or vape, the London Royal College of Physicians conclude that vaping is 95 per cent less harmful than smoking.
More importantly, the UK has seen no increase in the use of vaping among children aged 11 to 18 over this period. Of course young children still do unfortunately vape in the UK as they do here. In the UK about 5 per cent of children aged 11 to 18 vape, and in Australia around 9 per cent of children have vaped between the age of 14 and 17.
We should focus our law enforcement efforts on cracking down on those that supply vapes to young children. And we should ban products, like candy flavoured vapes, that are clearly marketed to children.
Our existing approach spreads us too thin and has too many holes for bad people to exploit.
If we instead regulated vaping sales that would give us greater ability to stop those products harmful to kids and focus our limited law enforcement resources on schools rather than shops.