A federal government proposal to allow pharmacies to sell smoke-free tobacco, to the exclusion of convenience stores has been condemned by the industry.

The National Retail Association (NRA) has described the proposal put forward by the government to the Therapeutic Goods Administration to consider allowing pharmacies to sell smoke-free nicotine products as the ‘worst of both worlds’ for C-stores, who are heavily reliant on tobacco sales.

NRA CEO Dominique Lamb said allowing pharmacies to sell the products would create a monopoly, to the detriment of small convenience retailers.

“The NRA understands the Federal Government has asked the Therapeutic Goods Administration to consider whether smoke-free nicotine products should be made available for sale in pharmacies – either by prescription or with the authorisation of a pharmacist,” Ms Lamb said.

“This makes no sense, that cigarettes would be freely available over the counter in corner stores and service stations, but the product that can help people transition away from smoking would be restricted.

“So outside doctors’ or pharmacists’ work hours, the only available option would be cigarettes. This flies in the face of common sense.”

Ms Lamb said retailers are highly opposed to what they see as the ‘deliberate exclusion’ of small businesses to share in the market, adding allowing this would disrupt market dynamics, hinder public health goals and put small businesses at risk.

It’s a view shared by Australasian Association of Convenience Stores CEO Jeff Rogut who, along with Ms Lamb and other industry figures, has written to the federal government in protest of the proposal.

“We absolutely disagree with pharmacies being given any more monopolistic power than they already have. We have called for deregulation of the pharmacy industry which the government to date has ignored,” Mr Rogut said.

“We have joined with other Associations in writing to the government , in particular the Health Minister, to put the case for making e-cigarettes more freely available, although with regulations around their sale. Studies overseas have shown that they are ‘safer’ than tobacco for people who choose to smoke. To date we have not had the courtesy of a response.”

“Our customers are seeking these products now and to have to refer them to pharmacies who only trade over limited hours or days of the week just does not make sense. It also opens the door more widely for illicit products to be sold due to the lack of availability of e-cigarettes potentially when customers wish to buy them i.e. through convenience stores 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

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