Health Minister Mark Butler says he will not give in to demands for vapes to be sold freely like cigarettes, despite a push from the Nationals and industry lobby groups who say regulated retail sales are the only way to curtail Australia’s pervasive black market.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration will hand a review to the federal government this week after canvassing thousands of submissions about Australia’s prescription-only model for e-cigarettes, which allows smokers to purchase vapes with a doctor’s prescription but prohibits general use.
Butler has estimated there are more than two million vapers in Australia, and most go online or to corner stores to purchase illegal flavoured vapes imported from China that contain nicotine. The bootleg market has flourished with limited law enforcement and enabled thousands of children and teenagers to freely take up the habit.
As the government prepares to act on the problem, the medical community has heightened its calls for tougher restrictions and more policing to strengthen the prescription model.
Australia’s prescription model is an outlier among comparable countries, including New Zealand, where they are available at retailers.
But there are a limited number of doctors willing to prescribe vapes as a smoking cessation tool. The TGA’s website says it has approved 1635 applications, although it only publicly identifies 277 in-person prescribers nationwide.
Both the Australian Medical Association and Royal Australian College of GPs believe there is limited evidence that vapes are effective smoking cessation tools and encourage their members to direct addicts to use other options to quit smoking.
Nationals leader David Littleproud said on Tuesday that the prescription model introduced by former Coalition health minister Greg Hunt had failed, with vapes sold “on every street corner”.
He said cigarette-type regulations involving accredited retailers and age restrictions were the common-sense way forward and this would also simplify police enforcement of the black market.
“I get the ideology of the AMA and the Cancer Council, but there’s a practical reality of this. We’ve got to be big enough to say we got it wrong and we’ve got to move forward,” Littleproud said.
“And we have to get ahead of this because children are the ones that are the victims.”
But in his strongest comments yet, Butler rejected the Nationals’ approach, which is also being advocated by the Australian Association of Convenience Stores that counts Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and Imperial Brands among its members.
“The Nationals have a blatant conflict of interest in this debate, they are still the only major party that excepts donations from tobacco companies. The tobacco industry has found a new way to develop a generation of nicotine addicts and we will not stand for it,” Butler said.
“We’re not going to give into this open slather approach that the Nationals and big tobacco want.”
Butler emphasised that all options were on the table ahead of the TGA review, but told Labor MPs at a caucus meeting on Tuesday he was already working on a suite of measures with state health ministers.
The Coalition has not made public its position in the debate. A party spokesman said backbench MPs raised their concerns at a joint party meeting on Tuesday but did not present a position, and health spokeswoman Anne Ruston did not comment.
Public Health Association of Australia chief executive Terry Slevin said the Nationals’ views were “worse than irrelevant” given they had received more than $275,000 in donations from tobacco company Philip Morris since 2015.
Head of the convenience store lobby Theo Foukkare, also a former British American Tobacco executive, said a consumer model based on cigarette sales would stop teens from vaping while giving smokers greater access to products that were better for their health.
“We know that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death. For everyone who stops smoking and starts vaping, there is a saving to the health system of managing that person long term,” he said.
But AMA president Steve Robson on Tuesday repeated the organisation’s view that nicotine vaping products were a last resort when it comes to smoking cessation and called for a greater crackdown.
“We still need to do even more to restrict access to nicotine vaping products, including banning the importation of nicotine vaping products through the personal importation scheme and reducing concentration limits,” he said.
Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.
Most Viewed in Politics
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article