23 March 2023
By Natassia Chrysanthos, The Sydney Morning Herald
Vape flavours would be banned, individual product packages would have warning labels and importers would need a permit to bring vapes into the country under a crackdown being recommended by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to stamp out vaping among young people.
Australia will remain a global outlier in maintaining its prescription-only approach to vaping, but is seeking to toughen import rules and product standards, given a flourishing black market has emerged since regulations limiting vaping to people with a doctor’s prescription were first introduced in 2021.
The new measures aim to eliminate bootleg sales of colourful and flavoured single-use vapes, which are imported mainly from China and widely available under the counter at corner stores across Australia.
Weak enforcement and easy access to these products – which often contain nicotine but are not labelled as such – has led to a sharp uptick of use among children and young people. There is also a limited number of doctors who prescribe vaping as a smoking cessation tool, meaning vapes are often more easily purchased on the black market than legally from pharmacists.
Health Minister Mark Butler said all health ministers were “determined to stamp out this public health menace” as he received a suite of recommendations from the TGA on Thursday following a public consultation that attracted more than 4000 submissions.
Most state and territory governments have supported a new measure requiring anyone importing vapes to have a permit, making it easier for Border Force to seize illegally imported products when they arrive. There was also strong support for warning statements, pharmaceutical-like packaging, restricted flavours and limited nicotine content.
The TGA’s recommendations were backed by many public health associations, health professionals, university researchers and Australian pharmacies.
But it also received thousands of submissions from individuals as well as many from retailers, including petrol stations and convenience stores, who want to remove the prescription model so everyday Australians can buy vapes.
The push for a consumer model that would allow vapes to be sold like cigarettes gained steam this week with support from the Nationals.
But that was knocked back by the TGA, which acknowledged many individual vapers, retailers, importers and pro-vaping groups wanted to abandon the prescription model, but said changing the regulatory framework was outside its scope.
There was broad support from stakeholders across the spectrum for banning disposable vapes.
Butler said the government would now consider the TGA’s recommendation but on Thursday reiterated his desire for strong action, which he said had been missing for years.
He said health ministers would next come up with a package reforms that considered options such as border controls, marketing, banning flavours and banning colours.
“The only legal way to sell a nicotine vape in Australia is through a prescription provided by a doctor to a pharmacy. Yet convenience stores, petrol stations routinely are selling nicotine vapes pretending that they don’t have nicotine in them, and more insidiously, selling them to children,” he said.
“That’s why we’ve got such a problem in this country and state health ministers – as much as I – are determined to take action to stamp this out.
“Now, that’s not going to require just action on the part of states or just action on the part of the Commonwealth. We are going to have to work together on this.”
Research commissioned by industry groups estimates there are more than 1.2 million vapers in Australia, while Butler has said there are as many as 2 million.