Vaping reforms divide the ranks

While the Senate’s move to crack down on nicotine vapes has been welcomed by health groups, some adult vapers have reportedly gone back on the cigarettes as they await the rollout of the pharmacy scheme.

The Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Vaping Reforms) Bill 2024 passed last week restricts advertising, packaging and flavours for vapes to stop young Australians from taking up a nicotine-based habit. 

It is now illegal for any business other than a pharmacy to sell vapes or vaping products in Australia, irrespective of whether they contain nicotine, and buyers need to have a doctor’s prescription. 

From October 1, people over 18 can buy plain packaged nicotine vapes from pharmacies without a prescription, while those under 18 will still need one.  

Royal Australian College of GPs president Dr Nicole Higgins said GPs supported stricter regulations on vaping.  

“This is about saving children’s lungs and younger generations from getting hooked on nicotine,” she said.  

“Vapes are only recommended as a second line aid for quitting in health guidelines, after people have tried other options, such as nicotine patches. It’s also important that a person’s vape use is monitored, as it should only be a short-term treatment, and can be harmful if they’re still smoking cigarettes.” 

However, in a policy that could have ramifications for reforming adult smokers, the requirement for pharmacies to stock nicotine replacement therapy has been left up to individual operators, which has been met with criticism from the Pharmacy Guild and national pharmacy chains. 

TerryWhite, Chemmart, Priceline Pharmacy, National Pharmacies in South Australia and the 777 Group all voiced strong disagreement with new laws allowing the sale of vapes without prescriptions. 

WA’s Pharmacy Guild told Medical Forum this week that the branch was yet to be advised of how this legislation will be implemented into community pharmacies, however currently: 

  • There is no guidance or protocol for pharmacists regarding their requirements for patient consultation to establish a clinical need for a nicotine containing vape, or the regulatory compliance of these instances, and; 
  • Vaping products have not been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and no nicotine-containing vape is listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. 

WA Guild spokesperson Alan Hill said it was too early to measure any increase in demand at a sector wide level because of the recent Federal Government announcements. 

“Patients providing a valid prescription should be aware of the possibility that their preferred community pharmacy will have to order in the stock, which may take 24-48 hours,” he said. 

“Individual pharmacies have the discretion on stocking and supplying vaping products, however early feedback from pharmacies is that post October 1, many may not.” 

Only one pharmacy informally surveyed by Medical Forum currently stocked vaping products, and these were not suitable for use with the current market-leading vaporisers owned by Australian vapers. 

Dr Alex Wodak, Emeritus Consultant in the Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent’s Hospital and board director of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association, said the developments represented “a continuing slow-motion vaping policy collapse, not ‘world-leading policy’ as Health Minister Mark Butler claimed. 

“The proposed arrangements still ensure that vaping, a much safer option, is severely restricted while deadly cigarettes remain readily available. This has never made any sense. The primary policy aim must be reducing smoking-related deaths as fast as possible,” he said. 

“In 2020, New Zealand decided to make vaping more available than cigarettes. Their smoking rate almost halved in the next four years, twice as fast as the decline in Australia’s smoking rate. Vapes in NZ are attractive, accessible and affordable. Vapes are sold there from speciality licensed retail outlets with strict age verification.” 

Dr Higgins said that the new regulations would need close monitoring to ensure compliance at the point of purchase. 

“People shouldn’t think of pharmacists as the new corner store,” she said. “Anyone over 18 who wants to buy a vape can only do so to help quit smoking and will need to talk to their pharmacist about their health and the options available to quit.”