The Australian government said it wanted to crack down on the use of e-cigarettes in an effort to “reduce smoking and stamp out vaping” in one of the most sweeping tobacco regulatory moves in the country in years.
The proposal, announced on Tuesday, would ban all single-use, disposable vapes; stop the importation of nonprescription vapes; require “pharmaceutical-like packaging”; reduce nicotine concentrations and amounts; and restrict certain flavors, colors and ingredients.
The federal government would also work with states and territories to end the sale of vapes in convenience stores and other retail settings “while also making it easier to get a prescription for legitimate therapeutic use,” the Department of Health and Aged Care said in a statement.
Nicotine vapes are currently available only with a prescription in Australia, but they thrive on the black market, especially among young people. While the contours of the proposal are still tentative, Mark Butler, the health minister, said its long-term intentions were clear.
“I want vaping to return to the purpose that we were told it was invented for, that is a therapeutic product to help long-term smokers quit,” Mr. Butler said in a speech at the National Press Club of Australia on Tuesday. “We were promised this was a pathway out of smoking, not a pathway into smoking. That is what it has become. That is what it has been sold as so shamelessly and presented as.”
In particular, Mr. Butler said, the government wants “to stamp out the idea that this is a recreational product at all, but particularly a recreational product for our kids.”
“Knocking that market out is what I am aiming for,” he said.
The Food and Drug Administration in the United States says there is not enough evidence to support claims, reflected in some studies, that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, which coat the lungs in tar. The F.D.A. also said that no e-cigarette has been approved as a “cessation device.”
The F.D.A. began to crack down on vape makers in recent years as young people got hooked on the fruity flavors of vapes, and many showed symptoms of mysterious and life-threatening vaping-related illnesses.
Mr. Butler said the Australian government had no plans to ban smoking or to phase out smoking by birth year, as New Zealand did recently when it placed a lifetime prohibition on cigarette sales to everyone born after 2008.
In its statement, the government called the strategy a “new national framework” to reduce daily smoking rates across Australia.
Australia’s treasurer, Jim Chalmers, will deliver the federal government’s annual operating budget to Parliament on May 9. It will include 737 million Australian dollars, or nearly $492 million, in funding for the initiative.
The budget will call for a 5 percent annual increase in the tobacco tax, effective Sept. 1, generating an additional 3.3 billion Australian dollars, or about $2.2 billion, in revenue over four years. Mr. Butler said on Tuesday that the government would largely invest that money in the nation’s health system, including a new national lung cancer screening program, cancer care services for Indigenous groups and programs to reduce vaping and smoking among First Nations Australians.
But the focus of the initiative, Mr. Butler said, was to “shut down a major health risk to the youngest generation of Australians.”
“We all know this as we interact as parents or uncles and aunties with young school students — it is just flourishing, particularly over the course of Covid,” he said. “We are going to have to shut down an industry, a market that has been allowed to grow up, in spite of the fact that it wasn’t really supposed to.”
But Nicole Lee, an adjunct professor at the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University, said she was skeptical that this kind of approach would have the effect on the black market that regulators hoped it would. A shortage of primary care doctors means that those seeking prescriptions for vapes are less likely to get them, putting more stress on an already explosive black market.
“We want to see reduced access and we want to see people able to use it for quitting smoking,” she said. “Quasi banning it means the black market will flourish and young people have more access, not less access.”
Yan Zhuang contributed reporting.