The Federal Government has met for consultations over its plans to limit the sale of vaping products to pharmacies, but small retailers are angered to have been locked out of consultations.

Speaking at the Senate Estimates Committee meeting, the Deputy Secretary of the Department for Health, Adjunct Professor John Skerritt said, “The evidence is in that vaping is less harmful than tobacco smoking”.

Given this admission, national associations including the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) and the National Retail Association (NRA) say that it makes no sense to limit the future sale of “less harmful” vaping products to pharmacies.

AACS CEO Jeff Rogut said Professor Skerritt had referred to a series of consultation events regarding the plan for the sale of vaping products, but he failed to mention small retailers as one of the participants.

“Government officials told the hearing they see vaping as a pathway out of cigarette smoking, and many of our members would support that if they could have access to selling vaping products instead of cigarettes,” says Rogut.

“Sadly, they weren’t invited to have their voices heard in this so-called consultation. Retail groups were not among the stakeholders the Department of Health was keen to listen to.

“No doubt selectively choosing the people to participate in your consultation will give you the answers you want, but they really should be listening to everyone who will be affected by this policy.

“They really should be listening to retailers, not shutting them out because they might not like the answers.”

NRA CEO Dominique Lamb, said: “Retail businesses are already struggling in an extremely difficult operating environment. The Department of Health’s proposed model locks out 28,000 small businesses and the 400,000 Australians these businesses employ. Instead the proposal grants a monopoly to big pharma companies.

“They are really struggling to understand why the Health Minister and Health Department plan to hand a highly lucrative monopoly right to sell less harmful smoke-free vaping products to multi-billion dollar listed and privately owned pharmacy groups, but lock small businesses out from being part of the solution.

“It’s completely illogical that, while retailers across Australia are permitted to sell cigarettes – the most dangerous way for humans to consume nicotine – they are barred from retailing much less harmful smoke-free vaping and heated tobacco products.

“This makes even less sense now that one of the Minister’s own advisers has confirmed smoke-free tobacco products as being less harmful than cigarettes, which are available everywhere.

“This approach represents the worst of both worlds in terms of damaging small businesses and reducing the opportunity for smokers to transition away from cigarettes.”

Lamb said that the NRA would put the views of its nationwide membership to the upcoming Senate inquiry into tobacco harm reduction, to be chaired by Senator Hughes.

“We are asking for the Morrison government to request its Health Department to delay its proposed regulation until the Senate Inquiry reports its findings and the Cabinet has an opportunity to respond with a whole-of-government policy approach.

“Small and family retailers want a properly regulated market for less harmful vaping products. Just like the strict retailing provisions currently in place for tobacco products such as age restrictions and age verification, regulated packaging, advertising bans, and quality standards.

“Eventually Australia will follow suit. So let’s do this right, delay this proposed ban and follow a proper whole-of-government approach – starting with this Senate Inquiry and concluding with a Cabinet decision.”

Rogut agrees and says convenience stores are responsible sellers of restricted products like legal tobacco and are more than capable of retailing vaping products in line with proper regulations, such as age limits, quality control standards and tamper-proof packaging.

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