NSW Police Officers Assault Teen for Possessing a Vape

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Boy with vape

The actions of New South Wales police officers have gone viral for all the wrong reasons once again, this time due to their illegal arrest of a young teenager in possession of a vape: an act which is completely legal.

The video footage

The video footage of the incident, which was uploaded to social media earlier this week and subsequently picked up by the mainstream media, shows officers confronting the 13-year old youth outside a Coles supermarket in Deniliquin. 

Two onlookers filmed the incident, with police warning all involved: “Don’t hinder us. Ok hand over your vapes.” The police demand had no legitimate basis in the law, and it is also important to note that ‘hindering a police officer’ requires an actual hindrance of a legitimate arrest.

When the confronted teen refuses to hand over his vape, two male officers grab, wrestle, trip and throw the boy to the ground, which clearly amounts to an assault under the law.

The boy is not formally arrested and no criminal charges are brought against him; seemingly content with their release of physical energy against the boy, the heavily framed male officers go on their way.

The incident is yet another example of police officers acting as if they are above the law, brutalising members of the public without legal justification.

What are Australia’s vaping laws? 

While it is unlawful to sell or otherwise supply vapes that contain nicotine, or import any single-use (disposable) vapes whether they contain nicotine or not, the mere act of possessing a vape does not amount to an offence.

This remains the case whether or not the person in possession is a minor.

Vaping in Australia

Vaping was introduced to Australia in the early 2000s. Originally hailed as a way to quit smoking, soon enough bodies of research began to explore the dangers of smoking, and the Australian Government has been cracking down on vaping ever since. 

Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, show that e-cigarette use by Australians aged 14 or older has more than doubled from 2016 to 2019 and is most common among smokers aged 18–24 at 18.7% (an increase from 6.8% in 2016).

New South Wales legislation relating to smoking and vaping. 

Laws relating to smoking and e-cigarettes (vapes) are contained within the Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 and the Smoke-free Environment Regulation 2016.  It is not illegal to smoke either cigarettes or vapes in New South Wales, but smoking is heavily restricted in public spaces, and doing the wrong thing can result in a $300 on the spot fine. 

Laws relating to the sale of tobacco and e-cigarettes are contained within the Tobacco and e-cigarette retailing laws. Tobacco and e-cigarettes are also regulated by the Therapeutic Drugs Administration (TGA). 

E-cigarette reforms 

In 2021, the Australian Government introduced strict laws which made nicotine vapes available to people 18 years and older, by prescription only. Reforms prohibited the sale of nicotine e-cigarettes by retailers, making them only available from pharmacies.

The legislation is enforced by New South Wales Health Officers who have the power to prosecute any one in breach of the laws. 

On January 1 this year, a second round of reforms which bans the importation of single-use or disposable vapes, irrespective of whether they contain nicotine or not. The laws requires anyone who is importing vapes to have a licence and a permit.  

Further, anyone with a prescription for a nicotine vape will not be able to import vapes directly from overseas through the Personal Importation Scheme. 

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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