From the 1920s to the 2020s - alcohol to nicotine vapes - lessons about prohibition are still to be learned. Patterns are repeating, and once again, poor policy is reaping havoc in our community.
In response to pressure from interest groups in the 1920s, the USA banned the sale of alcohol in all States except through a prescription from a pharmacy. Lawmakers in the US believed that banning alcohol would stimulate the economy in different sectors, reduce violent crimes and, importantly, appease a wave of religious revivalism. However, prohibition drove the market underground and founded a thriving black market fuelled by organised crime. Enforcement became so difficult that illegal transactions often occurred in broad daylight. Trade in illegal alcohol became increasingly lucrative while the quality of alcohol on the black market declined. Historians agree, however, that the most significant consequence of prohibition was that problems of alcohol abuse became worse.
Like the alcohol prohibition, nicotine vaping is currently banned in Australia except through a prescription from a pharmacy. The similarities to the alcohol prohibition 100 years ago are starkly apparent. The Australian vaping market is an over one million adult consumer black market, operating in broad daylight. Due to the lack of consumer regulation, trade in illegal vapes has caused an influx of low-quality vapes from China. Like bootleg alcohol, many of these products don’t have any product safety standards and there’s no way of knowing their contents or strength. And, like 100 years ago, the ban on vaping products has ushered in a time of rampant disregard for poor policy.
The US government fixed the problem of their own making by legalising the sale of alcohol and instituting strict regulations. As a result, youth drinking rates plummeted along with violent crime. Because adults had access to a legal, standardised and regulated supply of alcohol, they chose to comply with the law. With far fewer instances of illegal trade, policing became easier, which made disobeying the law harder.
This begs the question: why does the Australian Government still believe in prohibiting nicotine vapes?