The days of choofing huge clouds of watermelon lychee ice down the high street are numbered. ‘Cause our politicians and health authorities have lined up to regulate these quit-smoking aides.
On Friday, Australia’s medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), published an updated list of reforms it wants to see put in place to stop young people from picking up the habit.
It comes as new evidence suggests that 14% of people aged 15-30 are current vape users. These figures are higher than a 2019 survey, which found that just 9.3% of the same group were vape users.
Their advice is being “actively considered” by the Federal Government as part of its unified approach to “crack down” on vaping. Health Minister Mark Butler has said all health ministers are “determined to stamp out this public health menace” and that “nothing is off the table.”
The TGA’s new list of recommendations includes the banning of vape flavours, creating importation permits, and putting warning labels on packages.
Australia is the only nation in the world to require those who want to quit smoking by using a vape to have a prescription. Other countries, like the UK and NZ, actively encourage smokers to take up vaping, saying that it is 95% healthier than cigarettes.
However, some health experts are concerned about those who have never smoked taking up vaping.
In 2021, Australia introduced its first suite of reforms on vaping, banning the sale and use of vapes outside of those with a prescription. The policy has clearly failed to prevent young people from acquiring vapes, all of which are coming from the newly created black market.
With much hand-wringing and demands for action, the government appears to be gearing up to go to war against this self-made problem.
What Has the TGA Said About Vaping?
The TGA normally publishes its advice. However, this time, only a top-level summary of the review was released.
The focus of the review was on changes to border controls for vapes, a TGA assessment of vapes for quality and safety standards, and clarity around the TGA’s control over vapes.
Crucially, the TGA, which currently allows people with a prescription to import nicotine-containing products of their choosing, has said its “preferred option” is to shut down personal importation. This means vapes will only be allowed to be imported by pharmacies where they can be picked up by people with a prescription.
They also said they would like to see vapes undergo safety testing, add warning statements,add plain packaging, limit nicotine levels, and restrict certain vape flavours. There was also “significant support” for banning disposable vapes.
The review received submissions from nearly 4,000 different individuals and organisations, all of whom wished to express their opinions over the current accessibility of vaping.
Two experts categorised these responses broadly as either health organisations supporting tighter border controls or commercial organisations supporting the legalisation of selling vapes over the counter.
The TGA also dismissed “a large number” of submissions from the general public as “campaign responses” to change the current prescription rules – which is not what the review was about. The above experts chalk these up to “a well-worn tactic used by the tobacco industry” to flood community health surveys by imitating the general public.
A Guardian investigation found that at least four people submitted their views to the TGA didn’t disclose their connections to the tobacco industry. However, the above appears to entirely discount the support that the consultation garnered online from forums and health campaigners who encouraged others to have their say about quitting smoking with vapes.
The TGA stated that people who vape, and who will be most impacted by these changes, do not want import controls. They also want the prescription system scrapped. However, these people do want vapes to receive safety and quality testing.
What Has the Government Said About Vaping?
Butler will meet with tobacco control experts in April to discuss the vaping reforms that the TGA has put forward.
And back in November of 2022, the government launched its first foray into the vaping battle by beginning the TGA’s consultation process. At the time, tackling the rise in youth vaping was thought to be viewed by the government as a matter of urgency.
“The former government was asleep at the wheel on vaping. Our children are paying the price for that division and delay,” Butler said at the time, noting he wanted to bring vaping in line with cigarette advertising and controls.
As the consultation came to a close, Butler ramped up the rhetoric.
“We need to push back against the view that vaping is benign. It is not,” Butler said. “It is being directly marketed to kids.”
“Industry has found a way to develop a new generation of nicotine addicts, and we will not stand for it.”
His comments were mainly aimed at the Nationals, who support scrapping the prescription model and allowing vapes to be sold in the same way as cigarettes. Butler has called the idea a “silly policy.”
While nothing has changed just yet, it’s expected that major reforms, likely in line with the ones made above, will be brought in by the end of the year.
Vape Laws Australia
The vaping legal framework in Australia was created under the Morrison government by then Health Minister, Greg Hunt. He established the prescription model and banned retail sales.
Hunt also wanted to scrap the personal importation pathway, but members of his own government rebelled against this idea.
The issue is that enforcement is incredibly difficult. People are allowed to bring in products associated with vaping, so long as they don’t actually contain nicotine. In order to get around the ban, most disposable vapes come into the country with labels saying they are nicotine-free.
It would be extremely costly and resource-consuming to test every device coming into the country. Hence why the TGA wants to put a blanket ban on the importation of vaping products of any kind.
Current federal laws state that it is illegal to buy, use, or possess vaping products containing nicotine, which is considered a schedule 7 dangerous poison under the National Poisons Standard. This is, of course, unless you have a prescription.
State and territory laws vary considerably over whether non-nicotine vaping products can be sold or used, while all of them require a prescription for nicotine vaping products. Health Ministers from across the states and territories are in the process of updating their own laws. These update will bring their states more in line with what the current Federal Government is recommending.
Related: Just How Dangerous Is Vaping Anyway?
Related: The Great De-Vape: What Happens Now