The Unintended Consequences of Vape Bans

Vape bans are in place around the world in various guises; from outright prohibition on the sale of vape products to the restrictions placed on the types of allowable devices and the flavours that can be contained in eliquids. The aim of these bans is generally given as protecting children from taking up nicotine use – some do make false claims of invented danger – but it transpires that these bans come with predictable and unpredictable outcomes. In Australia, an extreme unintended consequence of its ban is being played out in towns and cities across the country.

The unintended consequences of the prohibition of electronic cigarettes
The Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) became law in the UK in May 2016. While it intentionally changed some aspects of vaping, the bans and restrictions simply served to create an entirely new market sector.
The TPD limited vape tanks to a 2ml capacity which raised the secondhand value of pre-TPD equipment. It also restricted e-liquid to be sold in 10ml bottles and limited the strength of nicotine to an arbitrary 20mg/ml.

The impact of the juice restrictions created the shortfill market overnight. From a situation whereby all home Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency products had to seek authority for sale and undergo comprehensive testing, 100ml bottles of nicotine-free liquids flooded into the UK and Europe without either.

In addition, retail websites came into being to cater for “businesses”, providing dangerous quantities of poisonous 100% nicotine. Neither this or shortfills had been heard of or envisaged prior to the European legislation. In part, the unregulated shortfill market has fed into the demand to restrict e-liquids to four flavour profiles now.

Current complete bans on the sale of vapes
The following list shows the 33 countries that still have an outright ban on the sale of all vape products. It should be noted that this is a shrinking group; in 2019 there were 42 mainly low-income and middle-income countries which had banned vaping.

Currently banned in:

·Brunei Darussalam
·Cabo Verde
·North Korea
·Sri Lanka

Even this list fails to explain the actual situation in those countries. Mexican courts ruled their ban unconstitutional, ecigs are freely available from burgeoning black markets in Thailand and the Southern Asian/South American countries – and even Singapore, home to the most ban laws in the world, has admitted it is fighting a losing battle.

The unintended consequences of severe restrictions on vaping
While Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom embraced vaping as a stop smoking tool, and saw their smoking rates tumble to record lows, Australia adopted a tough line on ecigs and didn’t experience anywhere near the same level of success.
The Australian government decided to deny approval to vapes as a smoking cessation aid. Worse, it introduced the world’s first ban on non-prescription vaping, demanding that anyone who wanted to vape instead of smoke had to visit a doctor to obtain a prescription in order to buy nicotine containing products. In practice, the process was even more complicated than that and resulted in smokers having to make multiple visits to a doctor’s surgery before they could successfully make their purchase.

At the same time the Australian government shared myths and untruths about electronic cigarettes and e-liquid. Finally, Australia banned disposable vapes completely from this January.

Whereas our Cochrane systematic review of global evidence finds that vaping works better than all alternatives, leading to fewer smokers and not introducing youth to tobacco, the Australian systematic review incredibly  concludes that vaping makes teens three times more likely to move on to smoking. This and some other rather bizarre research has been used to underpin its decision to get tough. Many outside Australia called this a complete failure of policy.

The result of limiting the availability of vaping also led to an explosion in the size of the black market, rendering border officials completely unable to keep up with illegal imports from China. In the state of Victoria alone, the ecig black market has been estimated at over AU$500 million (in excess of £50 million) per year, a figure that is accepted to be on the low side and expected to skyrocket with the banning of disposables in January.
But it isn’t just the black market delivering illicit, dodgy products into the hands of anyone who wants them – a far worse, frightening unintended consequence is now playing out.

Black market vape criminal gangs are fighting in Australia’s towns and cities
Naturally, black markets are operated by people breaking the law. Vaping is a multi-billion-dollar industry and providing illicit products is proving to be very lucrative for criminal gangs too.
As with the supply of illegal drugs, once criminal gangs are involved, fighting over territory becomes part and parcel of this unregulated enterprise.

Australian MP David Limbrick said: “Since the Americans tried alcohol prohibition about 100 years ago and experienced widespread poisonings, violence and corruption of the justice and political system, we have learned precisely nothing. The only benefit Victorians will get is some new episodes of Underbelly, complete with firebombings, murders and drug dealers selling vapes to school kids.”

Harm reduction expert Alex Wodak AM explained on Tuesday 13 February that 52 firebombings had taken place to date as organised crime targets opponent’s tobacconists and vape stores. Also, there have now been three murders in 2024 from gang-rivalry shootings.
Australia’s Channel 9 News reported a further incident on Thursday 15 February as two men were arrested for extortion and threats to carry out another bomb attack in Melbourne.

A cautionary tale for British politicians bent on enacting a disposable vapes ban and limiting eliquid flavours
Will similar criminal gang activity happen in the United Kingdom?
It’s impossible to say precisely how things will play out here if Prime Minister Sunak gets his vape ban Bill through the House but, with £millions at play, it would be a foolhardy person who thinks the problem with disposables will evaporate by simply banning them.