Theo Foukkare, CEO, Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), gives his opinion on the new vaping laws and whether they will stifle or fuel the black market.
Vaping in Australia has been a topic of discussion for several years now. For the last two years, the Australian Federal Government has adopted a world first prescription only approach to accessing nicotine vaping products. The intent of this approach was sound; however, the real-world experience is very different.
Unfortunately, this approach has been rejected by doctors, pharmacists, and adult consumers. The direct result of this has seen the development of a black market that is selling dangerous unregulated products to more than 1.6 million adults and unfortunately providing open access to children. The black market supply is estimated to now be worth more than $3 billion per annum in retail sales, almost exclusively being supplied by a very sophisticated black market model.
Minister Butler announced that under new laws introduced on January 1st 2024, all vaping products and accessories, both zero nicotine and nicotine will be banned, along with disposable vaping products. In these announcements, he has also confirmed that additional funding will be allocated to the Australian Border Force and Therapeutic Goods Administration to try and address the illegal importation under the new regulations.
As the head of a peak retail body representing retailers that sell legal taxable tobacco products across more than 6,500 outlets in Australia, 2023 has been an alarming year as the black market has significantly affected legitimate responsible retailers. At the same time, it has created alarm throughout communities right across the country.
I fully support all moves by Federal and State Governments to tackle the illegal supply of black market illegal vaping products, especially when it comes to under 18 access. I fully support strict product standards, bans on marketing and advertising, bans on flavours that target children, and all efforts to address the illegal retail sale of these dangerous products that are flooding into the country. I will continue to work with governments to ensure retailers comply with the law in every way.
What I do not support is the outright ban on these products. Double banning these products is not the answer. Regulating and controlling access to these products through a licensed retail framework for adults, coupled with significant enforcement by the correct authorities is what is required to address the black market and keep these products out of the hands of children.
Eighty-eight per cent of Australians want to see vaping products regulated like tobacco and alcohol. The simple reason for this is that they understand when markets are regulated and controlled, there are standards in place and access to under 18’s is restricted – it’s a model that has operated in Australia for decades with great success.
Many Members of Parliament and Senators across all sides of government agree with my thoughts above, however Minister Butler is persisting with his double ban.
On behalf of all retailers and the broader Australian community, I really do hope that 2024 is finally the year that governments can stop the illegal importation, supply, and retailing of these illegal products.
In my opinion, the worst possible outcome of this new legislation is that the black market adapts to the new laws and continues to supply dangerous illegal unregulated products to all Australians including children, undermining the governments overarching Tobacco Strategy of reducing the number of Australian smokers and protecting our youth.
All eyes will be on Minister Butler.
This article originally appeared in the December/January issue of C&I Retailing Magazine.