Australia’s strict anti-vaping stance has inadvertently fueled a flourishing illicit market for vaping products, mirroring the failures of 20th-century drug prohibition.
In line with warnings by countless tobacco harm reduction groups and experts, Australia’s strict anti-vaping stance has inadvertently fueled a flourishing illicit market for vaping products, mirroring the failures of 20th-century drug prohibition. In the Western world, Australia stands alone in requiring a nicotine prescription for legal vaping. As expected, this has pushed over 90% of its 1.7 million adult vapers towards the illicit market and led to an estimated 120 million disposable, unregulated vapes being illegally imported from China each year.

The irony is that the measures, allegedly aimed at protecting public health, are in fact endangering people in multiple ways by leading to a thriving underground market of unsafe products, whilst providing fertile ground for organized trafficking networks, an escalating turf war marked by violence, including firebombings, public executions, and daylight robberies. Moreover, these restrictions are also significantly hindering and even stalling local smoking cessation efforts.

The futility of prohibition

A local expert on the topic, Dr. Colin Mendelsohn, has recently revealed that even the head of the Australian Border Force has acknowledged the futility of banning vapes at the border, as the force lacks the resources to patrol the extensive coastline adequately. The rarity of prosecutions further underscores the failure of enforcement to make a substantial impact. The parallels with past prohibitions, such as the ban on heroin in 1953, are evident, as banned substances continue to be available through illicit channels.

Mendelsohn highlighted that the vaping prohibition’s impact on minors is also concerning, as easy access to unregulated sales channels undermines the rationale of protecting youth. According to the Iron Law of Prohibition, banned substances become more potent, dangerous, and accessible to vulnerable populations. The outbreak of EVALI in North America in 2019-20, linked to illicit THC vapes, exemplifies the risks associated with unregulated products.

The award winning physican reiterated that the solution to Australia’s vaping dilemma lies in embracing regulation over prohibition, following the blueprint of countries like New Zealand. A legal, regulated market with quality control, age verification, and products sold by licensed outlets could significantly reduce the illicit market, enhance product safety, curb violence, and align Australia with global best practices in harm reduction.

Australia’s vape restrictions have stalled smoking cessation rates

Infact, during a recent week-long visit to Australia, New Zealand’s Action for Smokefree 2025 (ASH) Director Ben Youdan, emphasized that Australia’s restrictive policy is preventing people from quitting smoking, potentially resulting in thousands of preventable smoking-related deaths. He acknowledged that while New Zealand’s vaping regulation wasn’t always perfect, it should encourage Australian policymakers to learn from both its successes and failures.

New Zealand has long been collaborating with Australian policymakers to establish an effective regulatory framework for vaping. Until 2020, smoking and vaping policies in both countries were similar. However, in 2020, New Zealand embraced vaping as a crucial tool for reducing smoking rates, leading to the establishment of a regulated vaping market that permits a variety of vapes as adult consumer products.

..while teen vaping rates have remained high anyway

As a result, New Zealand’s Health Surveys indicate a remarkable 49% decline in adult smoking rates over the past five years, contrasting with Australia’s marginal decrease from 12.3% to 11.8% during the same period. In parallel, despite Australia’s prescription-based approach, youth vaping rates have risen to levels similar to New Zealand. Youdan finds this concerning, especially as it is linked to illicit products without regulatory oversight.

In line with this, the latest data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA), have revealed concerning trends among younger Australians, specifically indicating an increase in vaping among minors.

Youdan criticized Australia’s seemingly irrational ban on safer nicotine products, which is prolonging the life of the tobacco industry. He urges Australian policymakers to visit New Zealand, witness the success of alternative regulatory models, and make evidence-based decisions to prevent avoidable smoking-related deaths and diseases. ASH strongly recommends this as part of a diligent policy process.

Australia’s Vape Blackmarket Keeps Flourishing as Health Minister Sticks to Prohibition

















































































































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