Vape supply disrupted following nation’s biggest ever seizure in Victoria —

Almost 500,000 illegal vapes have been seized in the largest single operation of its kind in Australian history.

The joint operation by Victoria Police and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has disrupted the supply of vapes worth an estimated $15 million on the streets.

Crime Command assistant commissioner Martin O’Brien said police were targeting organised crime amid a 12-month spike in violent crime and arson attacks linked to the illicit tobacco trade.

“Taskforce Lunar was established back in October last year and has worked closely with a range of specialist units including the VIPER Taskforce to target these organised crime groups,” O’Brien said in a statement.

Police arrested six men, aged between 20 and 37, at a West Melbourne warehouse where the vapes were seized on April 17.

“We have seen almost 100 people arrested in connection to illicit tobacco as well as multiple large scale seizures of illegally imported product,” Mr O’Brien said.

Federal Labor MP Josh Burns, whose electorate of Macnamara takes in Port Melbourne, said teachers and parents in his seat were worried about the impact of vapes on school children.

“Vaping is a real concern in our community, and I’m pleased that Australian Border Force (ABF) is taking action – including at the ports in Melbourne – to stop illegal vapes from hitting the streets,” Burns said.

“I’m proud to be part of a government that is taking the fight to Big Tobacco and to criminals who are breaking the law to make a buck off vulnerable young people.”

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said while the investigation was ongoing, the seizure was the largest identification of suspected unlawful vapes seen to date.

“(We are) sending a clear message to those seeking to supply vapes,” Butler said.

The haul is on top of the more than one million illegal vapes that have been seized by the TGA and ABF since new import regulations came into effect at the start of the year.

Commonwealth, state and territory agencies are working together to control the product, which has hooked a new generation on nicotine.

An enquiry in NSW has been told schools are taking a health-focused approach to getting children to quit.

Students caught vaping at school were being offered health-based interventions, NSW education department deputy secretary of student wellbeing Martin Graham told a NSW parliamentary committee two weeks ago.

Schools with a specific need for vaping detectors in toilets can request them, but the enquiry heard that they could provide a false sense of security and possibly drive more dangerous behaviour.

“One that was brought to us by the young people and health professionals was suddenly a trend to try and hold the smoke in your lungs to avoid the detector … that’s just making things way worse,” Graham said.

Data shows one-in-six high school students have vaped recently and that vapes have become the number one behavioural issue in many schools. Studies have shown that 9 out of 10 vape shops are within walking distance of schools.

ABF has also been working with officials in several countries to prevent the export of vapes to Australia, where it is permissible under the laws of that country.

“Now we need parliament to pass our legislation to return vaping to its original purpose of helping hardened smokers to quit – as prescribed by their doctor and purchased at a pharmacy like any other prescription,” Butler said.

The Federal Government’s next round of reforms will regulate vaping products as a therapeutic good, banning the import, manufacture, supply, commercial possession and advertisement of disposable single-use and non-therapeutic vapes.

Vapes containing nicotine can still be prescribed as an aid to quit smoking or to manage nicotine dependence.

(with AAP)

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