Australia's vaping laws are amongst the strictest in the world, and they may just be about to get stricter. Colin Mendelsohn discusses new regulations that will restrict flavours, disposables and nicotine liquid concentrations.
Hello and welcome. I'm Joanna Junak and this is GFN News on GFN.TV.
Australia's Health Minister, Mark Butler, has announced that the government will crackdown
on vaping to reduce harm among the younger generations.
The government is proposing stronger regulation and enforcement of all e-cigarettes, including
new controls on their importation, contents and packaging.
Joining us today to discuss this new plan is Dr Colin Mendelsohn, an academic and researcher
in tobacco treatment.
Hello Colin, it's nice to see you again on the programme. Can you tell us more about
the new regulations for vaping announced last week in Australia?
Hi Joanna. In Australia, vapers have needed a doctor's prescription to vape legally since
October 2021. Well, after 18 months, this has been a huge policy failure. It's almost
impossible for smokers to get a prescription and only 8% of vapers actually have one. And
this has created a huge black market selling unregulated, mislabelled, dodgy products to
adults and children.
Well, this week the Health Minister announced a doubling down on this flawed policy. He's
proposed a major crackdown at the border to prevent illegal imports and more policing
of black market sales. As well, there will be restricted flavours, reduced nicotine levels,
banning of disposables and a public health campaign to reduce vaping.
The timeline for these changes is unknown, but new legislation is needed and it will
probably take several months.
How will this impact vapers in Australia?
Well, this is a disaster for Australian vapers. Doctors are sceptical about vaping and it
will still be very difficult to get a prescription. Only 10% of vapers have said they're willing
to get one. There's very limited access to vapes in pharmacies and most have a very limited
range of suppliers. A recent survey found that 13% of vapers will go back to smoking.
Very few will get a prescription and most will continue to vape by accessing illicit
products from the black market. We don't know if vapers will still be able to import their
own supplies with a prescription under the personal importation scheme.
What other effects will these changes have?
Well, it's likely that hundreds of legal vape shops will be forced to close. This is
a tragedy, as vape shops provide valuable support and advice for smokers wanting to
switch to vaping. Thousands of staff will lose their jobs and we know that prohibition
doesn't reduce drug supply and we expect the black market to expand and continue to
supply dodgy products to youth as well as adults.
If vapers do get prescriptions, there will be an enormous additional cost to the government
for doctor visits, estimated to be about $1.5 billion per year.
So the big winners from these changes are the tobacco companies and the criminal gangs.
More cigarettes will be sold and more illegal, untaxed vapes will be freely available.
Why is the government making these changes?
The main driver of these changes is exaggerated fears and misinformation about youth vaping.
Despite the evidence to the contrary, the Health Minister believes that vaping is a
gateway to smoking and is addicting a new generation of young people.
He also maintains incorrectly that under-25s are smoking more, when in fact smoking rates
are actually declining more rapidly in that age group.
And that vaping is a big tobacco plot, and of course we know that's not true.
However the real reasons behind this decision I think are political, ideological, they involve
pressure from public health groups with a vested interest and protecting the $14 billion
tobacco tax income that the government gets every year.
That's Australia's fifth largest tax.
And how are vapers responding?
Well vapers are understandably devastated, they're anxious and angry.
A new vaper consumer group called Australian Smokefree Alternatives Consumers Association
is about to launch, and retailers have formed a new association, the Vaping Association
of Australia, and I'm sure they will help.
Legalised vaping has stepped up its advocacy as well.
But the most important thing vapers can do is to write to their local MPs and support
the association, and I hope as many as possible will do that.
We overturned draconian regulations in 2020, I think we can do it again if there's enough
pressure brought to bear on government this time, and that mostly needs to come from vapers.
Thank you Colin, looking forward to seeing you in Warsaw in June.
That's all for today.
Tune in next time here on GFN TV or on our GFN TV podcast.
And don't forget to register for the Global Forum on Nicotine Conference taking place
in Warsaw from 21st to 24th of June.
Thanks for watching or listening.
See you next time.