Nicotine vaping products are still considered unsafe in Australia.
In late 2021, Australian laws were enacted requiring valid prescriptions in order to purchase nicotine-based e-cigarettes, pods, and liquid vape juice. The Australian government prefers adults trying to quit smoking would first use other treatments like nicotine patches and lozenges. Then, only with a doctor’s recommendation can they use nicotine vaping products.
Once a person obtains a prescription to begin vaping, they can purchase e-cigarettes from an approved pharmacy. Prescriptions cannot be obtained for recreational use or given to anyone under the age of 18. Both the doctor and the pharmacy must be properly registered through the NSW Health organization. Nicotine vaping products sold in Australia must adhere to strict guidelines and be purchased directly through licensed, compliant wholesalers.
Dispensing nicotine vaping products in Australia is treated like medicine. The public cannot have access to the devices or accessories before they are sold and they must be displayed away from food. All waste derived from the sale of nicotine vaping products must be disposed of in a way that does not pose any risk to the public. Finally, all nicotine vaping products must be sold with child-resistant closures, similar to pill bottles.
The Australian Medical Community’s Response
Australian doctors are hesitant to prescribe nicotine vape products without compelling evidence of their safety. But if other methods have failed, and their patient’s goal is to quit smoking, then vaping is a reasonable solution. Overall, the medical community has generally formed a consensus that vaping is safer than combustible cigarettes.
While most physicians prescribe nicotine vaping products ethically, many doctors across Australia have been accused of “masquerading” as prescription generation services. Dr. Omar Khorshid, president of the Australian Medical Association penned an open letter admonishing such activities and urging the Therapeutic Goods Administration to stop posting lists of authorized prescribers. Dr. Khorshid felt these lists provided easy access to nicotine vaping products thereby undermining legal reforms.
Creating barriers to quitting without removing easy access to cigarettes
Although prescription-based nicotine vaping products do protect children and hopefully decrease teen vaping, they also create a large barrier to those adults motivated to stop smoking combustible cigarettes. Making the choice to quit is unique to every person and there is still a wide indigenous-to-non-indigenous smoking rate gap in Australia. For indigenous folk living away from cities, getting a doctor’s prescription, then seeking out a licensed drugstore is such a hurdle that it’s simply easier to step into a convenience store to buy a pack of cigarettes instead, therefore anti-smoking efforts. Furthermore, the need to regularly see a doctor to refill their prescription becomes an added financial burden that only makes it more expensive and troublesome to quit smoking than stay on them.
The Smoking Rate Gap Among Indigenous Australians
Opponents and critics of Autralia’s current policies want to see Australia take a page out of New Zealand’s playbook. New Zealand’s wide-ranging smoke-free by 2025 efforts include progressive policies toward nicotine vaping products and do not regulate them by prescription. The New Zealand Ministry of Health also worked hand-in-glove with Māori leaders to develop strategies that made sense for their cultural norms.
Critics believe Australia should work with its own indigenous populations toward reducing the smoking rate gap, as New Zealand did. Smoking is the leading, yet preventable, cause of death for indigenous people in Australia too. Experts believe more can be done to tackle the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smoking habits and encourage a more culturally sensitive approach.
Does Australia’s Vaping Policy need relooking?
Australia’s vaping policy is well-intentioned, and to a certain degree, recognizes that vapes are an important tool in curbing public smoking. Prescriptions give legitimacy to e-cigarettes and protect users from black market products. However, while the strict effort to keep vapes off underaged users is laudable, the current policies regulating access to vapes completely fail to restrict access to cigarettes in any meaningful way. Such a lopsided, dual track approach is potentially harmful to Australia’s long-term public health policies. A cure shouldn’t be harder to get than what’s harming them!