In one of the biggest nicotine reforms in nearly a decade, the Australian government has announced that it will crack down on the public prevalence of vapes in Australia with tough new measures.
Federal Health Minister Mark Butler announced that the Federal Budget will include a $234 million package designed to curb vaping among young people, including $63 million for a public health campaign.
“Vaping was sold to governments and communities around the world as a therapeutic product to help long-term smokers quit,” Butler told the National Press Club on Tuesday.
“It was not sold as a recreational product – especially not one for our kids. But that is what it has become: the biggest loophole in Australian history.”
“Just like they did with smoking, big tobacco has taken another addictive product, wrapped it in shiny packaging, and added flavours to create a new generation of nicotine addicts,” he continued.
The reforms have been welcomed by health bodies in Australia but rejected by other medical professionals and those who have used vapes to successfully quit smoking.
Here’s what the new laws will entail that will make Australia a pariah state when it comes to banning the smoking cessation devices thought to be 95% safer than cigarettes while keeping tobacco readily available.
Vape Laws Australia
Under current laws, brought in during the Morrison administration and Health Minister Greg Hunt, it is illegal to buy, possess, import, or use a nicotine-containing e-cigarette with no a prescription.
The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration considers nicotine to be a Schedule Seven drug, possession of which is illegal.
Each state and territory has slightly different laws when it comes to the sale and use of vapes. All of them regulate their use under existing cigarette laws, with all the usual rules about who can buy them and where they can be used.
When the 2021 laws were introduced, the government set up the prescription model framework for the regulation of vaping products. However, unlike other prescription drugs, the government allowed for the personal importation and sale of non-nicotine-containing vape devices. This was, in part, a concession to the Nationals — who still argue that vapes should be sold and regulated like tobacco and alcohol — in an effort to protect the livelihoods of people who work in vape shops.
What this inadvertently created however was the mass importation of vapes labelled as nicotine-free when they in fact do contain nicotine, making them both enjoyable and addictive. It essentially created a black market, flooding domestic sales with cheap Chinese imports and putting legitimate and compliant vape stores out of business.
Much like other illicit drugs, prohibition here has served to both cause and exacerbate a problem. This area is what the government is now focusing on as it responds, slowly, to the mess it has created.
New Vape Laws Australia
Under the new rules, the importation of all vaping devices, whether they contain nicotine or not, will be illegal, except by pharmacists. This is the key loophole that the government is trying to close.
Disposable, single-use vapes, like those sold in corner shops currently, will be banned, and, presumably, heavy penalties will be put in place for those found to be importing or selling them.
Vapes will now only be allowed to be imported to meet prescription demands in pharmacies and will have to comply with new safety regulations, likely to include the limiting of nicotine delivery.
Speaking to The Latch, a TGA spokesperson said that current rules specify a maximum nicotine concentration of 100 mg/mL which is 10%, much higher than the 2% nicotine allowed concentrations allowed to be sold by the UK’s health regulator, for example. They deem this to be far too high.
“Consideration is being given to reducing permissible nicotine levels to similar levels permitted by comparable regulators,” the spokesperson said.
Flavours will be banned in these devices and they will have to comply with plain, pharmaceutical packaging requirements. These will be the only devices able to be accessed.
“Vapes will only be available as a therapeutic good – therefore plain packaged and without flavours,” the spokesperson clarified.
Police will be cracking down on the sale of illegal vapes, particularly to children, with the suggestion that special officers will be organised to look out for vaping use and sales. However, Butler has pushed back on some of these claims, telling ABC Radio Adelaide that there are no laws currently in place that penalise people using vapes.
“The laws focus on vendors, not on people, not on customers, certainly not on kids, and that’s what we want to see enforced,” he said.
The government is also considering funding 40,000 smoke and vapour detectors in public schools in NSW in a trial that is set to potentially debut in July of this year.
Butler, in his speech to the National Press Club, said that all GPs would now be authorised to prescribe nicotine vapes, not just those who have applied for a licence to do so as is the case at present.
There is also suggestion that anyone who wants a prescription will have to access it through their regular GP to avoid people ‘doctor shopping’ for more sympathetic GPs who may be more likely to offer the prescription.
Under the current regulations, which may or may not remain in place, GPs have to be able to prove that their patient has tried at least two other quit-smoking aides before being eligible for a nicotine prescription.
The TGA spokesperson told The Latch that expansion of GP approvals, without having to apply for specific permission, may be done by extending the Special Access Scheme (SAS) category C pathway, which does not require prior approval, or by opening a potential new pathway.
“Commonwealth and states and territories will be considering whether alternative supply pathways should be available,” the spokesperson said.
As for when the changes will come into place, the Health Minister has said that he wants the reforms implemented as soon as possible. However, it will likely be some months yet before the changes come in.
“This is still to be worked out but the aim is to introduce reforms as soon as possible, noting that legislation will be required and a transition period may be required for some of the proposed new requirements for therapeutic vaping products,” the spokesperson said.
Butler, in his address, said that he wanted to ensure that young people did not swap their vapes for cigarettes and that his policies will ensure smoking rates continue to decline.
Whether restricting the single most successful quit-smoking aide in history will result in a continued decline in smoking rates remains to be seen. As Butler said, Australia does not want to see another generation of nicotine addicts. That’s why they are banning cigarettes ent- oh wait, they’re increasing the tax on them by 5% each year for the next three years, squeezing more money from the fourth largest individual tax collected — greater than petrol or superannuation.
Tax revenue from tobacco sales has halved over the previous decade as more and more people quit the habit. Vapes, sold illegally under the counter, are not taxed, while pharmacies stand to rake in millions with the above changes.
All of this is surely just a coincidence though.
Related: Just How Dangerous Is Vaping Anyway?