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Vaping and tobacco

Western Public
Health Unit investigation finds e-cigarettes widely available and easy to access for children and
young people

A new investigation into the accessibility of non-prescription e-cigarettes (commonly known as vapes) in Melbourne’s west has found that vapes are being sold in close proximity to schools and are easily accessible to children and young people.

The Western Public Health Unit’s ‘Out and About: Snapshot of e-cigarette accessibility in Brimbank’ investigation set out to map the number, type and location of retailers selling e-cigarettes in the City of Brimbank, a local government area that has higher than average rates of socio-economic disadvantage and a significantly higher proportion of daily smokers.

Over 17 field trips in June 2023, 59 retailers were identified across the City of Brimbank selling e-cigarettes including tobacco and liquor stores as well as grocery, convenience, fuel, café and food stores. The investigation found that 70 per cent of schools were located less than 1km from the nearest retailer selling vapes. 

Dr Finn Romanes, Director of the Western Public Health Unit, said that only the minority of stores were dedicated tobacco and vaping stores that are restricted to adults. The sheer number of retailers selling vapes was concerning, and two-thirds of stores were non-tobacco stores that are accessible by children and young people under 18 years, with vapes alongside everyday items on shelves. 

“Selling e-cigarettes in cafes and grocery stores normalises the sale to children and young people of a potentially addictive and harmful product that can act as a gateway to smoking tobacco. We found e-cigarettes were on wide display, presented appealingly with enticing flavours on offer like candy and icecream,” Dr Romanes said.  

“Although it is illegal to sell nicotine-containing vapes outside of a prescription, young people and their parents may not know that the majority of e-cigarettes on sale in retailers are deliberately mislabelled and actually contain addictive nicotine, as well as hundreds of harmful chemicals. This means that even when the label on the e-cigarette states they don’t contain nicotine, the majority do,” Dr Romanes said.

E-cigarette use has doubled among Victorian adults in the last 3 years.1 More than half of adults who vape use nicotine-containing vapes, and adolescents who vape are 3 times more likely to go on to smoke cigarettes.2 Vaping has become the single biggest risk factor for young people going on to smoke tobacco cigarettes.

“Exposure to nicotine in teenage years and early twenties can impair brain development, and chemicals in vapes pose serious health risks to children and young people, increasing the chances of serious lung damage, seizures, bronchitis and asthma. This investigation has highlighted the need for urgent action to crack down on vape access to protect children and young people, as well as adults. All types of vapes need to come off our shelves and be limited to careful and controlled use under a prescription as part of second-line tools for helping people to quit smoking,” Dr Romanes said.

On 28 November 2023, the Federal Minister for Health, Mark Butler, announced the importation of single-use disposable vapes will be stopped from 1 January 2024. There will be improvements in access to therapeutic vapes for smoking cessation and then changes to reduce nicotine content, bring in plain packaging and the all-important step of preventing retail sale of any non-prescription vapes altogether.

The investigation’s findings will inform the Western Public Health Unit’s approach to working with local councils and communities to reduce vaping and tobacco related harm.

Parents, carers and young people can access the facts on vaping by visiting Quit’s Get the facts on vaping online hub at Parents are recommended to find out about vaping, and to talk to their kids about the harms of vaping. The Western Public Health Unit recommends any parent or young person with concerns about vaping addiction to seek help from their GP, or contact the Quitline for advice and support.

Download ‘Out and About: Snapshot of e-cigarette in Brimbank’ report

Listen below to Western Public Health Unit Director, Dr Finn Romanes interviewed on ABC Radio Melbourne about vape accessibility

Click here to read ABC article: Western Public Health Unit finds vape stores surround suburban schools in Melbourne’s west


1. Bayly M, Mitsopoulos E, Durkin S, Scollo M. E-cigarette use and purchasing behaviour among Victorian adults: Findings from the 2018-19 and 2022 Victorian Smoking and Health Surveys. Prepared for: Quit Victoria. Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, Cancer Council Victoria: Melbourne, Australia, October 2022. Available from: use and purchasing behaviour among Victorian adults.pdf

2. Scully M, Greenhalgh E, Bain E, Wakefield M, Durkin S, White V. E-cigarette use and other risk factors associated with tobacco smoking susceptibility among Australian adolescents. Aust N Z J Public Health. 2023 Aug 21:100076. doi: 10.1016/j.anzjph.2023.100076. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37620243.