A tobacco control expert says this is the only way to stop kids vaping, while a group of retailers is campaigning to get rid of prescriptions.
All vaping products, except those prescribed to adults by a doctor, should be banned from retail sale in Australia because current regulation just isn’t working, according to a University of Sydney expert.
At the same time, a consortium of Big Tobacco-backed retailers has formed to advocate for change: it agrees that the current regime has failed, but its fix for the growing black market is to end the requirement for nicotine prescriptions.
Associate Professor Becky Freeman, writing in the Sax Institute’s Public Health Research and Practice journal, said “predatory” retailers, manufacturers and importers of vaping products had exploited loopholes in regulations to flood the market with illicit products that appeal to young people, resulting in a “skyrocketing” uptake of vaping by young people.
“Distinguishing between a legal non-nicotine vaping product and an illegal nicotine-containing device requires laboratory testing, which hamstrings effective enforcement of the regulations,” Professor Freeman writes.
“Stopping the importation of all vaping products into Australia, regardless of nicotine content, unless bound for a pharmacy, would simplify and increase the effectiveness of enforcement and stop the flood of illicit products. This would also end young people’s easy access to vaping products.”
Speaking with TMR, Professor Freeman said:
“We have a massive blind spot about vaping. Non nicotine-containing vaping products are not regulated and although they are meant to not have nicotine in them, when we test them in laboratories they often do.”
The tobacco, gambling, alcohol and fast food industries have been “quick to seize” on the distraction effect of the covid pandemic, she said.
“The Australian Government has been caught off guard by an aggressive industry that seeks to undo decades of effective tobacco control,” she wrote.
The good news is that “after 10 years of minimal action”, the government may be regaining its focus when it comes to tobacco control.
“I’m optimistic,” Professor Freeman told TMR.
“We have three control measures and initiatives which are in the pipeline – the health ministers have endorsed the new National Tobacco Strategy; the federal government has announced a package of new control measures, including updated graphic warnings on tobacco products, prevention of the use of additives such as flavours and menthol, and a requirement for tobacco companies to be transparent about their sales volumes, pricing, product ingredients and emissions, as well as their advertising, promotion and sponsorship activities.”
None of those proposed measures have yet been introduced to Parliament.
The third reason for optimism, according to Professor Freeman, was a TGA public consultation on potential reforms to prevent children and adolescents from accessing vaping products. Submissions closed on 16 January and the TGA is yet to publish any response.
“I am hopeful that we will see real reform,” Professor Freeman told TMR.
Meanwhile, British American Tobacco Australia has teamed up with a group of retailers, including Merivale and Merlino and Co, to form a group called Responsible Vaping Australia. The group’s stated aim is to change “Australia’s prohibitionist vaping policies” which have led to “the creation of a thriving black market for nicotine vaping products”.
A spokesperson for BAT Australia said:
“RVA is an initiative of British American Tobacco established to represent adult consumers, responsible retailers and industry associations who advocate for the responsible regulation of nicotine vaping products.
“Supporters of RVA are advocating to end the black market trade of nicotine vaping products by ensuring Australian only adult consumers are able to purchase products in a responsible and regulated way.
“Despite Australia’s ban on the adult retail sale of nicotine vaping products aided through the failed prescription model, a rampant black market exists run by illegal operators who are selling unregulated products to anyone – including children.
“RVA is calling for the introduction of strong adult consumer regulations which have been proven to work in other comparable countries to enable the Australian government to control the market and reduce the demand for illicit products.”
Comment has also been sought from Merivale and Merlino and Co, but neither had responded by deadline.