Federal Health Minister Mark Butler has been accused of launching a smear campaign against thousands of responsible Australian retailers in a desperate attempt to deflect from his failure to shut down the nation’s out of control nicotine vape black market.

Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) CEO Theo Foukkare said comments by Mr Butler, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, that claimed convenience stores and petrol stations were deliberately selling nicotine vapes to children amounted to slander.

“We have over 6,500 members who’ve each made a commitment to be responsible retailers, and many are small family businesses trying to make an honest living– yet Mark Butler is demonising them for a problem that he has the power to fix.

“There is no doubt kids are getting their hands on dodgy nicotine vapes from shifty shopfronts–but they’re not AACS members.

“If Mr Butler – or anyone else for that matter – has evidence to the contrary, it should be reported it to us, instead of making defamatory comments about the likes of 7eleven, BP, Ampol and Viva Energy by generalising in the media.

“Start naming names,” Mr Foukkare said.

“If any AACS Convenience Retail members is blatantly breaking the law, their membership with us will be terminated – it’s as simple as that”.

Mr Foukkare said the youth vaping crisis was being fed by online stores that supply kids, adults and dodgy retailers with dangerous products that were poorly manufactured overseas.

“Mr Butler and his colleagues haven’t even bothered to attack this problem at its core,” he said. Mr Foukkare said he had written to Communications Minister Michelle Rowland and urged her to use ministerial powers to order social media providers and internet service providers with “take down” notices for pages that sell illegal nicotine vapes.

“If the Feds were serious about shutting down the black market, they’d start by doing that.

“The youth vaping crisis that has unfolded under Mark Butler’s watch is the direct result of his failure to be a leader and take strong, regulatory action to prevent access to vapes by kids.

“We don’t have a youth smoking crisis because we have some of the toughest tobacco laws in the world.

“Yet when it comes to vaping – there is no regulation – it’s the wild west.

“Prohibition doesn’t work, regulation does. But for some reason Mark Butler refuses to acknowledge this and now he is blaming our members for his failing.”

Mr Foukkare said Mr Butler must apologise to the thousands of Aussie retail business owners he had insulted in the SMH article.

“Mark Butler must explain why he attacked thousands of honest, responsible Aussie retailers just to desperately try and deflect from his failure on this issue.

“We want an immediate retraction and apology to our members who have wrongly been tarnished by Mark Butler’s unfounded and untrue claims,” Mr Foukkare said.

Theo Foukkare is available for interview on 0423 003 133

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