Vaping legislation wins support from lung health experts

By Michael Woodhead

25 Jun 2024

Lung Foundation Australia has joined with other health advocacy groups to urge the government to pass legislation that will restrict vapes to pharmacies.

While not perfect, the amended legislation that bans the sale of vapes outside of pharmacies would go a long way to reduce the alarming uptake among young people, according to a joint statement from Cancer Council Australia, Public Health Association of Australia, and LFA.

If passed by Senate the legislation will come into effect from 1 July to regulate vapes as a schedule-three pharmacist-only medication, and be subject to plain packaging rules. The original legislation was to have them as prescription-only medications available from a GP, but this plan was watered down in a compromise deal between Labor and the Greens.

“Passing this legislation is vital for the lung health of Australians and will go a long way to make sure e-cigarettes are not easily accessible by young people and non-smokers, and that vaping is not normalised and considered socially acceptable,” said Lung Foundation Australia CEO Mark Brooke.

“Lung Foundation Australia urges our nation’s leaders to get these critical reforms in place now, enabling health bodies to focus on contributing to a robust monitoring and evaluation framework, as well as strong enforcement and public health education without stigma,” he said.

If passed, the bill will mean that from July 1, non-nicotine vapes will no longer be permitted for sale outside of pharmacies. Nicotine vapes will continue to be available on prescription from a GP.

Then, from October 1 2024, people who wish to use a vape for therapeutic purposes will no longer require a prescription. Instead, they will be able to directly purchase a vape from a pharmacy. Vaping products will be kept behind the counter and only available for purchase with identification to show users are aged over 18.

The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) said it stood firmly behind Health Minister Mark Butler and the third wave of Vaping Reforms.

“This legislation is essential for public health protection,” TSANZ President Professor Anne Holland said. “It must be enacted to shield the younger generation from nicotine addiction’s harmful effects, while allowing healthcare providers to prescribe e-cigarettes when medically necessary.”

The Society said that while the compromise changes to the original Vaping Reforms Bill dilute the effectiveness of the S4 Prescription Only access to e-cigarettes, it is vital that this broadly supported Bill still passes.

Similar comments were made by the Public Health Association of Australia.

“This bill may not be perfect, but we cannot wait for perfect,” said CEO Terry Slevin

“The legislation before the Senate will turn the tide on the vaping epidemic and builds in a review period that ensures we can accurately assess its impact and evolve the legislation as needed,” he said.

Chair of Cancer Council’s Tobacco Issues Committee, Ms Alecia Brooks, said urgent action is needed because the number of young people taking up vaping and becoming addicted to nicotine is steadily increasing.

“For every week Parliament waits, the equivalent of an additional school of students steps down the path to a future of nicotine addiction and harm. In just the past year, more than 400,000 teenagers reported vaping at least monthly, if not more,” she said.

While it has always been illegal for retailers to sell any vaping product with nicotine, the reforms offer the essential enforcement mechanism for federal and state and territory authorities to make this a reality, the joint statement noted.

Under current laws, retailers can disguise vapes simply by labelling them as nicotine free and claiming they’re only available to adults. Meanwhile, authorities must go through a complicated and resource heavy process, taking a vape, sending it to a lab for testing, proving it contains nicotine and then seize it, to stop illegal retailers.

According to the Cancer Council, the new bill will simplify enforcement as all vapes will be treated the same – only available in pharmacies as a therapeutic product to help quit smoking.

“It will also see an end date on vapes being sold alongside lollies, ice-cream and groceries in retail stores,” Ms Brooks said.

Pharmacist-tobbaconists?

However some lung health researchers have expressed concern about how allowing pharmacy sales of vapes will work in the real world.

Professor Brian Oliver, who leads the Respiratory Molecular Pathogenesis Group at the University of Technology Sydney and the Woolcock Institute, described the pharmacy OTC vapes amendment as “an illogical step backwards.”

“The lack of a prescription now puts the responsibility on a pharmacist to decide who should be able to be dispensed a vape.  Do pharmacists want this responsibility? Are they equiped to deal with the backlash when they say no?  Who pays for the pharmacist’s time?”

He said that if the cost of e-cigarettes at a pharmacist is substantially higher than the black market, the black market will always have customers.

“The argument made was that a visit to a GP, who may or may not bulk bill, was cost prohibitive, but someone will have to now cover the cost of the pharmacist’s time. Of course this might prove to be a lucrative niche area – will tobacconists … ahem … tobacco-pharmacists be the new norm?  I’m sure if I can see the gap in the market someone else has already thought of the idea: vape only pharmacies.”

“There are so many questions.  Without a record of the number of times a person has collected their vape we will have no idea if a person is using these as a quit aid, or as a source of nicotine. What is to stop someone buying from several pharmacies and on selling? Why stop at e-cigarettes, perhaps pharmacists should “dispense” cigarettes too? “

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