Australia’s Ban on Recreational E-Cigarettes: Assessing the State of the E-Cigarette Retail Industry

Understanding the Popularity and Safety Concerns of E-Cigarettes among Young People

Electronic Cigarettes, Credit: Yuchen Hao

Interviews on the streets of Sydney with young people about e-cigarettes and the new ban.

E-cigarettes are popular among young people in Australia. It can aid smokers in quitting, but there is a risk of developing dependence on their use. Australian Health Minister Mark Butler announced on May 2nd a ban on recreational e-cigarettes, prohibiting the importation of non-prescription e-cigarettes and disposable e-cigarettes, while also imposing strict regulations on flavors and packaging. Why are e-cigarettes becoming popular among young Australians? How will this ban affect e-cigarette businesses? What are the health risks of e-cigarettes?

Impact of e-cigarette ban on businesses

Dan (a pseudonym), e-cigarette shop owner in Sydney, sells e-cigarettes and various vape pods. The store is located in close proximity to the city center, with a significant number of residential areas nearby.

The shop has a trendy and avant-garde interior design, with three walls displaying a wide range of colorful vape pods. Even on a weekday afternoon at 3 o’clock, there are still three customers in the store, browsing through the different flavors and vape pens.

” The profit of this store is pretty good. During busy weekdays, we can sell 60 vape pods and 10 vape pens per day, earning around 10000 Australian dollars per week, ” said Dan.

On the walls of the shop, there are various brightly colored vape pods. “These are all nicotine-free vape pods,” Dan explained to the customers, “we have fruit flavors, beverage flavors, and tobacco flavors.”

Coloured vape pods of different flavours on the wall.
Coloured vape pods of different flavours on the wall. Credit: Yuchen Hao

Dan mentioned that the majority of customers in the store are young people. “Sometimes they recommend their friends to come and buy,” said Dan.

“I recommend non-disposable e-cigarettes as they are more environmentally friendly and cost-effective for repeated use,” said Dan. He pulled out three e-cigarette pens to the customers, demonstrating their performance. With just a press of the heating button and inhaling from the mouthpiece, they can be easily used, and replacing the vape pods is also convenient.

“Most young customers are attracted by the fashionable designs of the e-cigarette pens. We often have customers who purchase new vape pens for a more stylish look, just like buying new clothes,” said Dan.

Fashionable vape pens. Credit: Yuchen Hao
Fashionable vape pens. Credit: Yuchen Hao

Dan expressed concern about the upcoming regulatory reforms for e-cigarettes in Australia. “I am worried that after the e-cigarette ban is implemented, the performance of my store will decline significantly. This policy comes, my shop is likely not far from closing down,” said Dan. “How can a e-cigarettes shop survive without selling cigarettes?” Dan frowned his brow, expressing his worries.

When asked about providing e-cigarettes to minors, Dan responds cautiously, said, “I don’t intentionally check customers’ IDs, but if someone appears to be particularly young, I remind them to take care of their health. ”

According to Australian regulations, the only legal way to obtain nicotine e-cigarettes is by obtaining a prescription from a doctor and purchasing them at a pharmacy. However, the high demand for nicotine e-cigarettes has led to the emergence of underground sales channels for e-cigarettes.

“If you need e-cigarettes with nicotine, you can check out this business card. It provides online purchasing options,” said Dan as he handed a customer a business card. The card contained information about purchasing websites and an introduction to nicotine vape pods.

There are many retailers like Dan who provide channels for selling nicotine e-cigarettes, with a significant portion being online sales channels.

“I believe that banning recreational e-cigarettes and the increasingly strict policies in Australia regarding e-cigarettes will to some extent reduce the channels for youth to purchase e-cigarettes,” said Dan. ” But the internet is so advanced that there will always be new buying channels created.”

Audio interview with e-cigarette shop owner.

E-cigarettes are popular among the youth population

The majority of young people in Australia have expressed that they have purchased and used e-cigarettes. What attracts them to e-cigarettes are the attractive designs, diverse flavors, and the perception of being healthier than traditional cigarettes.

Jie Zhang, an 18-year-old undergraduate student majoring in finance at the University of New South Wales, has been using e-cigarettes since coming to Australia. “I used e-cigarettes to quit smoking before, and it worked well. But as I used e-cigarettes more frequently, I couldn’t control my e-cigarette addiction again. Usually, I would privately buy some e-cigarettes with nicotine to satisfy my needs,” said Zhang Jie.

Jie Zhang showed her social media page, which displays numerous private e-cigarette sales. The sales pages offer a wide range of e-cigarettes, including e-cigarette devices and nicotine-containing vape pods from different countries.

Social media sales of nicotine e-cigarettes.
Social media sales of nicotine e-cigarettes. Credit: Yuchen Hao

Among the youth population, there are two main channels for purchasing e-cigarettes: through acquaintances and online websites.

Jie Zhang said, “Initially, I didn’t intentionally buy e-cigarettes with nicotine until I found that they could actually be delivered to my door. It was so convenient that I bought them on average once a month.”

“I feel that e-cigarettes make me cough a lot and I don’t concentrate as well. I would also caution myself to use e-cigarettes as little as possible,” Jie Zhang said.

Health Risks of E-cigarettes

According to the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health (2023), 14% of young people aged 15 to 30 are currently using e-cigarettes, and 33% of young people have tried them before.

Although the sale of e-cigarettes with nicotine is currently prohibited in Australia, with restrictions on their sales and advertising, young people still have multiple avenues to access e-cigarettes.

Jacinta Zeng, Master of Public Health at the University of Queensland, said: “Generally, e-cigarette liquid contains nicotine, diluents, and flavorings. These ingredients are considered safe, but when they are heated into vapor and inhaled into the lungs, they may irritate the bronchial mucosa. Currently, there is no conclusive research on the long-term effects of e-cigarettes on human health.”

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), e-cigarettes can affect the physical and mental health of young people. The components in e-cigarette aerosols may be harmful to the lungs and skin. There have also been incidents of fires and explosions caused by e-cigarette batteries.

In addition, e-cigarettes with nicotine can harm the developing brains of individuals under 25 years old. It impairs brain control and reduce young people’s learning and memory abilities. Once young people become dependent on nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, they will experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit. Symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties will contribute to a vicious cycle of nicotine dependence in young people.

Jacinta Zeng stated that based on current research, there are two main ways to reduce e-cigarette use among young people: strengthening regulations and enforcement of e-cigarette laws in Australia, and providing education on e-cigarettes and their health risks to young people.

“It is necessary to tightly regulate e-cigarettes as they pose health risks and psychological harm to teenagers and young people. Furthermore, raising awareness of e-cigarette risks through online platforms and schools can increase young people’s knowledge about e-cigarettes and prevent them from becoming addicted out of curiosity,” said Jacinta Zeng.

Do you support the ban on recreational e-cigarettes?

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