NSW Health launched just 12 prosecutions for illegal vape sales over 18 months,

Two years ago, a school principal flagged a convenience store with authorities, claiming the shop in Sydney’s south was selling vapes to their underage students.

New South Wales Health gave Lucky 7 a warning, telling them it was illegal to sell vapes to people under 18 years old.

Nine months later, the Caringbah store was caught illegally selling a vape to a 16-year-old and fined $900.

Less than a year after that, compliance officers paid Lucky 7 another visit.

The outside of a convenience store

The Lucky 7 store in Caringbah was caught a number of times selling illegal nicotine vapes.(ABC News: Tony Ibrahim)

Behind the front counter, on shelves and in the storeroom, they found 1,454 illegal nicotine vapes. They were all seized.

Three weeks later, officers witnessed the store selling another vape containing nicotine.

The case of Lucky 7 illustrates some of the challenges health and law enforcement face as they try to curb the illegal sale of a product at the centre of a rise in vaping.

The ABC reviewed all of the court prosecutions brought by NSW Health against people and businesses convicted of illegally selling nicotine vapes over an 18-month period from July 2022.

There were just 12 successful prosecutions – 11 for stocking nicotine vapes and two for selling vapes to people aged under 18. One store was convicted for both.

Seven of the shops continued to stock illicit vapes after they received a warning, had their products seized or were convicted in court.

Rows of seized boxes of vapes

The NSW government seized 431,000 nicotine vapes and cartridges from stores in 2023.(ABC News: Tony Ibrahim)

Under the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act 1966, shopfronts caught selling the contraband face fines up to $1,650 per offence, and/or up to six months in jail.

The courts handed down fines from $400 to $1,200 per offence, and none of those prosecuted served time in jail — though one is serving a sentence in the community.

“You’ve had very few prosecutions and laughable levels of penalties,” Roger Magnusson, an expert on health law and governance from the University of Sydney, said.

“There’s no economic incentives to stop and so these guys will continue to supply nicotine vapes.”

In the case of Lucky 7, an owner pleaded guilty to six offences related to the stocking of illegal nicotine vapes, and received two $500 fines and one $700 fine.

The average nicotine vape sells for $30, according to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which means the 1,454 nicotine vapes seized from the Lucky 7 store would have a sale value of $43,620.

‘It’s the biggest public health crisis young people face’

a man standing behind a microphone speaking to the media

Ryan Park says vaping is the “biggest public health crisis young people face”.(AAP: Jane Dempster )

In Australia, vapes that do not contain nicotine can be legally sold to anyone aged 18 and over.

But as of October 2021, nicotine-containing vapes can only be sold by pharmacies to people who have a medical prescription.

According to NSW Health, one vape can contain the same nicotine content as 50 cigarettes.

“It is the biggest public health crisis young people face at the moment,” Health Minister Ryan Park said.

“Ninety-seven per cent of them contain nicotine. We saw last century what happens when a generation of people get hooked on tobacco and nicotine.”

The NSW government seized 431,000 nicotine vapes and cartridges from stores in 2023.

Mr Park said there were nearly 50 inspectors working across the state, and that $4.3 million is being invested over three years in compliance and enforcement.

Professor Magnusson said businesses selling vapes viewed seizures and fines as the “cost of doing business”.

“The maximum penalty, that’s ludicrously low when you take into account the economic incentives to sell these products,” Professor Magnusson said.

Fines in NSW could be toughened

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