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Vape shops funding organised crime, minister warns

Kat WongAAP
Minister Mark Butler says an influencer's past use of vapes fits within a new anti-vaping campaign. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)
Camera IconMinister Mark Butler says an influencer's past use of vapes fits within a new anti-vaping campaign. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

Vapes shops have become a lucrative source of revenue for organised crime, who use sales to fund drug and sex trafficking, the health minister says.

The federal government has banned the importation of single-use vapes and more restrictions are set to take effect from Friday, but vaping remains a pervasive addiction.

Detective superintendent Jason Kelly, who is part of the anti-gang division at the Victoria Police, says the money that can be made from illicit tobacco and vape sales is "staggering".

Since January 1 more than 360,000 vapes worth almost $11 million have been seized by the Australian Border Force and the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

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And according to Health Minister Mark Butler, criminals are leveraging this to fund their own activities.

"This is increasingly a market controlled by organised crime," he told ABC radio on Thursday.

"They are using this lucrative source of revenue to fund their other criminal activities like drug trafficking, sex trafficking and the like."

In response, the government's next tranche of anti-vaping legislation will target these local retailers and potentially outlaw the sale and supply of vapes by July.

"These vape stores are opening up almost on a weekly basis and increasingly around school communities," Mr Butler said.

"Governments haven't been able to crack down earlier but there is now a shared sense of will."

The health minister on Wednesday revealed the government would spend $250,000 partnering with Spotify, social media influencers and sports stars as part of its youth anti-vaping program.

But soon after the announcement, old photos emerged that appeared to show one of the partnered ambassadors - comedian Jaxon Fairbairn - holding a vape.

Asked if these images weakened his government's messages, Mr Butler pushed back and said he was "not at all perturbed".

"This pile-on by the traditional media onto this young bloke, I think, is really quite weird," he said.

"He'd vaped in the past, he's been clear about that and he's not a vaper now,.

"We've engaged 10 or 12 social media influencers and just using the percentages I'd be surprised if a few of them have not vaped in the past.

Cricketer Ellyse Perry, gamer JackBuzza, diver Sam Fricker and surfers Zahlia and Shyla Short are among others who have partnered with the government.

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