The Heart Foundation has welcomed planned restrictions on vaporisers and ACT chief executive Tony Stubbs says while he would have preferred an outright ban, the ACT's strict controls were an important first step.
Assistant Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris introduced a Bill on Thursday to treat vaporises as though they are cigarettes, whether or not they contain nicotine. Selling or supplying vaporisers to under-18s will be banned, as will using a vaporiser in a car where a child under 16 is present. Advertising and promotion of vaporisers will be banned, and only licensed tobacco sellers will be able to sell them, in the same way tobacco products are sold. Vaporisers will be banned from public buildings and outdoor places where smoking is banned, including restaurants and bars.
Ms Fitzharris expects the Bill to become law later this year.
Mr Stubbs said the Bill got rid of "the absurd situation" where people could potentially use vaporisers in schools, on buses and in workplaces, with no evidence about whether they were safe.
There were no studies on whether inhaling the vapour was safe, nor on whether second-hand vapour was safe, he said. The Heart Foundation was also concerned about the risk of normalising smoking among children and the risk that children would move from vaporisers to cigarettes.
The Bill provided clarity for retailers, employers and others who had been looking for guidance on whether they could sell vaporisers or allow their use.
The government received 242 submissions on its vaporiser discussion paper last year, a number from people who defended vaporisers as useful to help people quit smoking and who warned that treating vaporisers like cigarettes would drive people using vaporisers back into smoking areas and entrench the connection between vaporisers and cigarettes.
But Mr Stubbs said there was very mixed evidence on whether vaporisers were useful for giving up smoking, and if the manufacturers believed they could play a useful role they could apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration to have them approved for smoking cessation.
Ms Fitzharris said the Bill was a "prudent precautionary approach" to prevent the widespread uptake of personal vaporisers in the community, including by non-smokers and children.
The "hard fought gains in tobacco control" had left the ACT with the lowest smoking rates in the country. The new laws would prevent the renormalisation of smoking, and make for "a cleaner, healthier Canberra", she said.
"The Bill will also reduce the risk of personal vaporisers acting as a gateway to tobacco use for non-smokers, especially for children and young people."
Last year, the National Health and Medical Research Council had recommended that governments act to minimise harm until there was evidence of safety, she said.
The ACT is not the first to regulate e-cigarettes, as reported in Thursday's Canberra Times, but goes further than others, except Western Australia where there is a ban. In NSW, e-cigarettes cannot be supplied to under 18s and display and advertising is restricted, but NSW doesn't go as far as the ACT, which is also banning them from office buildings, buses, taxis, restaurants, pubs and clubs, outdoor eating areas and underage music functions.