The Nationals are at odds with health experts over the regulation of vapes, arguing retailers should be allowed to sell the nicotine version.

“We’ve got an epidemic out there,” the party’s federal leader David Littleproud told ABC TV on Tuesday.

“These things are on every street corner.”

Mr Littleproud believes vapes need to be treated the same as cigarettes, to curb black market sales and limit youth access.

“We have got to get ahead of this because children are the ones that are the victims of this,” he said.

Under Australian laws, it is illegal to buy, possess or use nicotine for vaping without a doctor’s prescription. Only pharmacies can sell e-cigarettes or e-liquids that contain nicotine.

The Nationals want the laws changed to allow retailers to dispense nicotine vaping products but limit sales to people 18 and over.

Such a measure would reduce under-age access and tighten the supply chain, Mr Littleproud said.

But health experts argue the lack of strong law enforcement against vapes is threatening Australia’s hard-won tobacco control successes.

The Australian Medical Association is calling for further limits on access to vapes and a reduction in their nicotine levels.

New research by the Australian National University is being used to back a call for a government crackdown on access to e-cigarettes.

More than 240 chemicals were found in toxicological analyses of non-nicotine e-cigarettes, according to the report.

At least 38 of those chemicals were listed poisons and another 27 were associated with adverse health outcomes.

Users of nicotine e-cigarettes could also be poisoned by the nicotine itself, the study said.

Nicotine poisoning can cause seizures and respiratory depression, which can result in death, according to Cancer Council Victoria.

“The jury is in. It’s time for stronger, strictly enforced regulations so we can avoid another public health crisis like tobacco,” AMA president Steve Robson said on Tuesday.

The report also found that most use of e-cigarettes is not for smoking cessation, since most smokers who vape continue to smoke, and most use in young people isn’t about quitting smoking.

More than one-third of e-cigarette users in Australia are under 25, with 11 per cent of the population 14 and over reporting e-cigarette use in 2019.

“Vaping products are a gateway to smoking for young people,” Professor Robson said.

“We know many products marketed as not containing nicotine have been found to contain nicotine.”

At least 32 countries have banned the sale of nicotine e-cigarettes, 79 allow them to be sold while fully or partially regulating them and the remaining 84 do not regulate them at all.

The ANU study is published in the Medical Journal of Australia.