Why the ban on single use e-cigarettes is good for the environment


22 May 2023

As part of the federal Budget, Health Minister Mark Butler announced a ban on the importation of single use e-cigarettes (vapes), non-prescription e-cigarettes, and the sale of e-cigarettes outside of pharmacies.

There has already been significant coverage on e-cigarette companies using predatory guerrilla marketing to target children. They have paid social media influencers and purchased product placement deals on streaming services while grooming children into a lifetime of addiction with lolly-like flavours such as apple pie and bubble trouble.

It is also well known that repeatedly inhaling chemicals can only be harmful for your health. The toxicity and serious health impacts of e-cigarettes on lung health are now established. Besides the usual offenders such as British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International, it is the Chinese-based e-cigarette companies Geek Bar, Elf Bar and Lost Mary that dominate the e-cigarette market.

Disposable e-cigarettes and electric vehicles

Disposable e-cigarettes have grown five-fold (2018-2022) to reach $5 billion per annum in global sales.

What is less discussed in public are the severe environmental consequences of e-cigarettes and the upwards price pressure they place on electric vehicles (EVs).

The US and EU have listed lithium as a critical raw material essential for civilian and military use – more than 90 tonnes of lithium were used to globally produce disposable e-cigarettes in 2022.  The International Energy Agency raised concerns about lithium supply shortages as manufacturers race to scale up EV production.

E-cigarettes are causing lithium to be in even shorter supply. Each disposable e-cigarette contains 0.15g of lithium to power an e-cigarette and it cannot be recharged. After 500 puffs the e-cigarette is disposed, and 610 million e-cigarettes were sold last year globally. That amount of lithium could have been used to supply more than 11,000 EV batteries. In 2022, there were roughly 11,000 EV sales in SA, QLD, WA and TAS combined. Additionally, disposable e-cigarettes contained enough copper for 1.6 million home EV chargers. Equating to 1,160 tonnes of copper being wasted per annum globally due to disposable e-cigarettes.

At a time when there is a move to encouraging EV ownership and a cost-of-living crisis, e-cigarettes are driving up costs for EVs and chargers. Worst of all, the lithium and toxic chemicals from e-cigarettes are going into landfill because the cost to take apart e-cigarettes for recycling outweighs the profit from the resold recycled parts. It costs roughly $10 to recycle one disposable e-cigarette which is more than the cost of buying a new one.

Government right to ban disposable e-cigarettes

E-cigarettes are driving up the cost of EVs, destroying the environment, and wreaking havoc on the lung health of Australian youth. The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand congratulates Minister Butler on this major reform reflecting evidence-based policy.

Vincent So is CEO of The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ). TSANZ is the only health peak body representing a range of professions (medical specialists, scientists, researchers, academics, nurses, physiotherapists, students and others) across various disciplines within the respiratory/sleep medicine field in Australia and New Zealand.

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