Is Butler the new Roxon? Anti-vaping bill passes Senate

4 minute read

The reform limits the legal sale of vapes to pharmacies, but this shouldn't make them the new corner store or make vaping a first-line therapy, says the RACGP.

The federal health minister has been likened to public health pioneer Nicola Roxon, who spearheaded the internationally adopted plain-packaging tobacco movement in 2012, after anti-vaping laws passed in the Senate.

Today, the Senate passed the Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Vaping Reforms) Bill 2024, banning the domestic manufacture, supply, commercial possession and advertisement of disposable and non-therapeutic vapes.

Under the new changes, adults will be able to purchase vapes as Schedule 3 medicines after consultation with a pharmacist from 1 October, while under 18s will need a GP prescription.

During a transition period from 1 July to 1 October, adult patients will also need a prescription from a GP to obtain a vape.

Only plain-packaged vapes compliant with TGA standards, in menthol, tobacco and mint flavours will be legally available for purchase, and only from pharmacies.

Speaking on the Bill, RACGP president Dr Nicole Higgins championed the stricter vaping regulation.

“These reforms will help as they make retail sales illegal, as well as putting an end to lolly-like flavours and colours designed to attract children,” he said.

“People shouldn’t think of pharmacists as the new corner store.

“Anyone over 18 who wants to buy a vape can only do so to help quit smoking and will need to talk to their pharmacist about their health and the options available to quit.”

Dr Higgins emphasised the ongoing role of GPs in smoking cessation.

“The RACGP remains a strong advocate for a medical approach, and for people who want help to quit nicotine to get expert support from their GP, and evidence-based methods to quit,” she said.

“Vapes are only recommended as a second line aid for quitting in health guidelines, after people have tried other options, such as nicotine patches.

“It’s also important that a person’s vape use is monitored, as it should only be a short-term treatment, and can be harmful if they’re still smoking cigarettes.

“I encourage anyone who wants help quitting nicotine to see their GP for medical expertise and evidence-based methods to give up for good.”

AMA president Professor Steve Robson also highlighted the importance of GPs in smoking, and now vaping, cessation.

“GPs have been helping patients with nicotine dependence for decades and are the best placed to support patients quitting smoking and vaping,” Professor Robson said.

The AMA said that while it acknowledged that late-stage amendments to the reform made vapes more accessible to adults through pharmacies, it would work with the government and pharmacists to ensure nicotine cessation was focused on robust tools backed by sound evidence.

“The ultimate passing of the federal government’s vaping legislation will be a major turning point in the fight against the insidious vaping and tobacco industry,” Professor Robson said.

“We commend Health Minister Mark Butler and the federal government for putting this issue firmly on their agenda, because previous attempts to regulate vaping in Australia have failed due to the failure to listen to the public health experts, leading to more and more young people taking up vaping and becoming addicted to nicotine.

“The ultimate goal is to stop people taking up vaping and support those already hooked on this deadly habit to quit, working primarily with their GP — and this legislation does exactly that.”

The Heart Foundation also welcomed the new legislation.

“The more we learn about ‘vaping,’ the more we understand its harmful effects on the human body, including its links to heart disease,” said the organisation’s CEO David Lloyd.

“One recent study found that any use of e-cigarettes is associated with a 33% increased risk of having a heart attack compared to people who have never used e-cigarettes.

“Add to that the high levels of nicotine that keep people addicted, and vaping is just another deadly and costly version of tobacco smoking, which already sadly costs our nation far too much in terms of pain and suffering, as well as billions of dollars in healthcare costs.

“Minister Butler’s efforts in addressing this issue are as commendable as Nicola Roxon’s work on plain packaging, showcasing a strong commitment to public health.”

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