The Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) has joined with health experts to call upon the government to develop a framework for the legal sale of e-cigarettes.

It comes amid a Senate Inquiry into ‘Personal choice and community impacts’ which is currently examining a range of issues including the sale and use of tobacco and nicotine and e-cigarettes as well as other measures introduced to restrict personal choice.

Within Australia, the legislation regarding e-cigarette use, display and sale varies from state to state, however, in all states of Australia it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes and e-liquids containing nicotine, although e-cigarettes themselves and the importation of nicotine e-liquids for personal use is not outlawed.

AACS along with the New Nicotine Alliance and other health experts, is now calling on government to lift the ban on e-cigarettes without delay, so the potential for these products to help smokers kick the habit can be realised.

Addressing the inquiry in Sydney on Wednesday, Dr Attila Danko, president of New Nicotine Alliance, suggested smoking could become obsolete if laws prohibiting e-cigarettes were overturned and labelled draconian laws banning e-cigarettes as “monstrous”.

Legal sale

AACS CEO Jeff Rogut emphasised the urgent need for government to develop a framework for the legal sale of e-cigarettes, before the black market fills the gap – as it has done so effectively in the market for traditional tobacco products.

“The sharp rise in the illicit market for tobacco, and the disastrous health and economic implications of the growth of this market, reinforces the importance of getting the framework for the responsible sale of e-cigarettes right,” Mr Rogut said.

AACS supports restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, ensuring the products are child tamper proof, contain an ingredients list and meet minimum safety and quality standards.

“Kneejerk reactions to ban e-cigarettes [would] represent a huge missed opportunity. We should be making it easier – not harder – for people to access products that might help them quit.

Mr Rogut said e-cigarettes could provide real economic opportunities for small businesses like convenience stores in their efforts to compete against the major chains. E-cigarette products are suited to the convenience store model and have significant potential to drive revenue growth.

“Convenience stores are proven responsible retailers and have the potential role to play at the coal face, conveniently providing adult consumers a healthier, safer choice. The longer the issue is bogged down in debate, the less support we are providing people who smoke,” Mr Rogut said.

Tax treatment

For Australians to capitalise on the potential health benefits, it will be essential for government to avoid subjecting e-cigarettes to the same tax treatment as other restricted product categories like tobacco and pharmacy products, said Mr Rogut.

“In developing a framework for the sale of e-cigarettes, we cannot afford to view these products as just another source of tax revenue. If e-cigarettes are too heavily taxed it may discourage or prevent people from investigating this solution.

“E-cigarettes are a potential solution to reduce the incidence of smoking. We need to give them a chance to succeed,” he said.

International evidence

In the US, convenience industry analysts predict the sale of e-cigarettes will soon surpass traditional cigarette sales. Research by Wells Fargo indicates US retail sales of electronic smoking devices could top the $10 billion mark by 2018 due to ongoing interest by both manufacturers and consumers.

International studies back up the potential role e-cigarettes can play in tackling smoking. The August 2015 study entitled Electronic cigarettes: A report commissioned by Public Health England states that e-cigarettes are around 95 per cent safer than smoked tobacco.

“There is international research to show that e-cigarettes represent a safer alternative to smoking and that they can help some people in their efforts to quit. If Government is serious about reducing smoking among the population, they owe it to these people to conveniently provide a better alternative,” Mr Rogut said.

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