A few weeks ago, Mark Butler, Australia's Health Minister, made an important speech about the nationwide increase in vaping.

The gains that had been made in tackling tobacco consumption could unfortunately be undone, Butler said, by a new threat to public health - vaping, which had been sold to governments and communities across the world as a therapuetic product to help long-term smokers quit.

Read more: Vapes poll: Should E-cigarettes be sold in plain packaging?

It was not sold, the minister added, as a recreational product, and particularly as not one for young people. But that was what had happened. It had become the biggest loophole in Australia's healthcare history. One in six young people there aged 14-17 had vaped; one in four between 18 and 24 had, too. Vaping had become the key behavioural issue in high schools.

Read more: E-cigs: Plain packaging call over teenage 'vaping epidemic'

Vapes, the minister added, contain more than 200 chemicals that do not long belong in the lungs; some are even found in weedkiller and nail-polish remover. Big Tobacco had wrapped an addictive product in shiny packaging and added sweet flavours to create a new generation of nicotine addicts. Young vapers were three times as likely to take up smoking; the first rise in youth smoking rates in Australia in 25 years has recently been reported.

Read more: Scottish Government should crack down on illegal youth vaping sales

The word 'epidemic' has frequently been used to describe the number of young people who have turned to vaping. In an open letter to Humza Yousaf four experts in child and respiratory health in Scotland said that e-cigarettes should be sold in plain packaging and hidden from view in shops to combat a "vaping epidemic" among teenagers.

Regulations to restrict the visibility and availability of recreational e-cigarettes should be introduced without delay amid "established and emerging science on the health harms" of vaping products, they said.

Read more: We must ban single-use vaping if we are to protect our children

Such urgency is not misplaced. Nor are the health concerns.

It is illegal to sell vaping products to under-18s in Scotland, but the latest statistics indicate that 10% of 15-year-olds in Scotland are now using e-cigarettes regularly compared to just 3% in 2018. A number of councils in Scotland have witnessed a significant rise in pupils vaping in high schools. One English MP has reported that  eight children at one school in her constituency in Lincolnshire, collapsed at different times following vapes, requiring hospital treatment. Some of them become unwell.

The World Health Organization, which says that even some products claiming to be nicotine-free have been found to contain nicotine, points out that consumption of nicotine in children and adolescents has harmful impacts on brain development, with long-term consequences for brain development and potentially leading to learning and anxiety disorders.

Nicotine is highly addictive and some evidence suggest that minors who have never smoked but who use electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) can double their chance of starting to smoke tobacco cigarettes later in life.

WHO adds that though it is too early to get a clear answer on the long-term impact of using or being exposed to such products, some recent studies suggest that ENDS use can increase the risk of heart disease and lung disorders. Nicotine exposure in pregnant women can have similar consequences for the brain development of the foetus.

Read more: Hundreds of vapes confiscated in Scottish schools

Australia is among the countries that have taken vigorous action, banning recreational vaping, introducing minimum quality standards will also be introduced, and restricting the sale of vapes to pharmacies.

The Scottish government is under pressure from doctors to ban the sale of disposable e-cigarettes, which are used by 75% of children who vape. Others demand robust restrictions on the advertising and promotion of recreational e-cigarettes.

Read more: Helpful or harmful – what is the truth about e-cigarettes?

It is time for a mature national conversation about the way in which such products are marketed to the young, just as we did all those years ago over 'proper' cigarettes before a ban on smoking in public places was introduced in 2006.

The Scottish Government, which is updating its Tobacco Action Plan for the autumn, is concerned - as it ought to be - that age-restricted products should only be used as a cessation tool for adult smokers, not by children, young people and adult non-smokers.

In considering further action on under-age vaping it would do well to heed the examples set by Australia and other countries, and also the words of the English MP mentioned above. “All these colours and flavours like ‘unicorn milkshake’", said Dr Caroline Johnson, "cannot possibly be designed for an adult middle-aged smoker to quit.”


Is Scotland still listening?

Recent events have buffeted Scotland's ruling party and the associated cause of independence. Given this, you cannot blame the SNP for seeking to focus on its priority of getting the indy dream back on track, starting with a Convention in Dundee today.

Ash Regan, the defeated leadership candidate, will put to it her plan to achieve independence without a referendum.

Read more: Let's talk MINCE to keep the indy journey going

The SNP describes the meeting as the first fresh opportunity for members to discuss strategy for securing independence, one that will usher in a summer of campaigning activity - leafleting, canvassing, regional assemblies. The strategy will be decided upon at the Annual Conference in October.

Read more: Why is the SNP holding an independence convention this Saturday?

But recent legal problems have damaged the party's standing, as have persistent rows over ferry procurement. Furthermore, it is hard to avoid the view that what matters now is not so much an indy campaign as a pressing need to address the social and economic questions that beset the country. And there is always a risk that the Convention will bring into the open the party's internal divisions.

The party will debate independence vigorously over the coming months, as is its right. But will its final strategy electrify the electorate as it once did? Do we not need to first get the basics right before we witness another long campaign?