Opinion: TGA prescription vape model has failed, and Minister Butler has the power to fix it

This article was written by Theo Foukkare, CEO of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS).

The Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) prescription model for vapes and e-cigarettes has failed.

Research commissioned by AACS shows that more than 1.2 million adult Australians vape, with 88 per cent of all nicotine purchases made illegally through the black market.

And with only 277 publicly available authorised GPs nationally, out of over 30,000, it’s not hard to see why.

Moving to a stricter, regulated model will enable tighter regulation, pre-market testing, strict packaging requirements, ingredients disclosure, banning of flavours that appeal to children, responsible retail licensing frameworks, ban on marketing and advertising, and a ban on social media.

The black market here is booming because the more than 1.2 million Aussie adults who choose to vape can only buy unregulated, often dangerous products online because the government refuses to address the situation responsibly and argue that the only issue is with youth vaping.

Those retailers currently breaking the law by illegally selling vapes should be shut down permanently and feel the full weight of the law. No one wants to see children accessing any age-restricted products, whether that be alcohol, tobacco, vapes or anything else for that matter. This also goes for AACS Members, break the law and you should face the consequences.

But if an adult smokes, they should be able to easily switch to vaping, the mounting global evidence clearly validates this. The current prescription model makes that process very difficult. I am not a health expert, however what do Australia’s health professionals know that Public Health UK, the New Zealand Government, the European Union, and the Canadian government don’t know? If they have new research to the contrary, then they should publicly release it.

Public Health England publicly promote through their validated research that vaping is 95 per cent less harmful than smoking. It is not harmless; however, it is significantly less harmful.

The Australian Government and Health Minister Mark Butler should be focusing on addressing the best way to help Australian’s quit smoking, of which currently 20,000 Australians will continue to die every year from a tobacco related illness, as well as addressing the broken legislation to give police and health the powers to shut down illegal operators. But they are only focusing on one pillar of the issue, when there are many. The disturbing fact that children are experimenting, and they don’t want a future generation of nicotine vapers is only one issue and not the total landscape of what the black market and a failed policy has created.

Convenience stores are trusted to sell tobacco and fuel products responsibly to adults and they are also able to sell quit-smoking aids like nicotine inhalers, patches and gum.

If they were also able to sell identifiable, properly regulated nicotine vapes to adults, where ingredients must be stipulated, flavouring and packaging regulations complied with, just as they are with tobacco, we’d be able to stave off the black market.

The Australian Government must follow the lead of New Zealand, the European Union, and the United Kingdom by making e-cigarettes a regulated and controlled adult consumer product sold by responsible retailers.

This isn’t an issue that will go away. It’s going to continue to grow. Australia’s adult smokers, parents and teachers are on the front line dealing with this every day, and all tobacco retailers are having their customers walk out the door to the black market. This needs to stop urgently.

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