In his latest opinion piece, AACS CEO, Theo Foukkare, discusses the explosion in black market vaping products, including Uber drivers advertising vapes in vehicles.

Theo Foukkare, CEO of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores.

Vaping, both nicotine and zero nicotine, is now a very real topic of discussion for many Australians, some for and some against. I am not a doctor or health professional, so I’m not going to get into a debate on the health perspective whether positive or negative. In the ‘for’ side, it is widely being used by consenting adults globally and locally as a transition to quit smoking and change their behaviour. On the ‘against’ side the largest issue we are all facing is with teen vaping, either at school, at home or just socialising with their teen friends.

Most parents are talking about this at their weekend BBQ with family or friends, many schools are talking with parents and students to help educate against vaping, and their media stories talking about the social impact, long term effects along with widespread availability.

What isn’t being reported or widely known is the real reason we have this exploding issue. The real issue at hand is the catastrophic failure of regulation.

The Federal Government may think it’s being tough on vaping but just looking around on the streets, schools and on the internet, the government’s policy is a laughingstock, that is a complete failure.

Dodgy retailers are selling vapes all over the place, including places where it’s easy for kids to buy them. And unfortunately, these retailers have very different ethics and morals and are not practicing responsible retailing to 18+ with ID only. Additionally, you can go online and find a whole universe of vaping products on offer, many of them containing nicotine and clearly marketed at young people. Tik Tok, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, where kids spend hours on end every day of the week are assisting in driving the availability.

And now Uber drivers are selling them as a side hustle. I’ve seen a lot of things in my retailing career but seeing an Uber driver advertising vapes with a neon sign on the dashboard is taking things to a new level of chaos that is out of control.

It is my strong view that this is a result of the Federal Government’s heavy-handed, prescription-only regime for buying nicotine vaping products. As we know, excessive regulation or essential prohibition drives things underground and onto the illegal black market.

The black market is exploding because of the prescription policy. And a thriving black market makes it easy for kids to access the products – the suppliers are clever marketers, and they sell them in lots of different ways, including now it seems in Ubers. Accessibility has never been greater.

Responsible and legitimate retailers around Australia have a role to play in limiting access to children, just like we have played with reducing access to cigarettes to minors. Kids should not be vaping, full stop. But adults want to, often instead of smoking cigarettes. Unfortunately, they are buying them online, from retailers breaking the law, from overseas websites – the list is exhaustive.

Australia stands in complete contrast to countries like New Zealand and the UK, which are making great strides in responsible retailing of nicotine vaping products, and I don’t see any panics about vapes in schools there.

The black market genie is out of the bottle. It’s too big to police already, and it is very difficult for the police to even enforce this given all the red tape that exists. If the government wants to get rid of it they need to make nicotine vaping products available for sale in normal shops, and people should need to show ID. That way any selling of nicotine vaping products to minors will be clearly illegal.

Consumers are walking into all types of retail outlets asking about nicotine vaping products, only to either be turned away or if desperate they might end up buying a packet of smokes. When retailers turn them away, where do you think they are going? They’re going straight to the internet, dodgy retailers breaking the law or maybe jumping into an Uber.

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