The Federal Government’s decision to push ahead with a prescription-based model for nicotine e-cigarettes has the potential to slow the vaccine rollout and entrench a black market for vaping products.
Australia lags most of the developed world in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and is well short of its own targets.
By the Federal Government’s own admission, Australia’s vaccine rollout won’t gain pace until October – the same month it was supposed to be completed with much of this work falling on GPs.
It therefore makes no sense that at a time when GPs and pharmacies workloads will be massively increasing, the government will be forcing 520,000 e-cigarette using ex-smokers into GP waiting rooms to obtain a prescription for nicotine.
The time of GPs and other health professionals is precious and finite, so it really must be queried if having 520,000 ex-smokers who are not sick and have already quit through vaping, is the best use of a their time, especially during COVID.
The fact is e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes. It therefore makes no sense that they should be harder for responsible informed adults who want to quit smoking to obtain than cigarettes.
Besides stating that vaping is 95 per cent less harmful than smoking, Public Health England has also said, “vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking and switching completely from smoking to vaping conveys substantial health benefits over continued smoking”. The advice couldn’t be clearer.
To date vaping has helped more than half-a-million Australians give up or stay off cigarettes, and could help the current three million smokers do the same. But to achieve this, requires business and government working together, not policy on the run that locks out retailers, like convenience stores, which have a trusting relationship with their customers from the supply chain.
Let’s be clear, the Federal Government’s move to a prescription-based model risks the progress of those who have already quit smoking and will inevitably delay or halt any further progress on reducing Australia’s smoking rates.
These new laws take all of that away, and push the job onto GPs, many of whom will likely have an institutionalised bias against the devices, let alone even know what a vaping device is and how it works.
The Doctor’s Union, the Australian Medical Association issued a statement only 12 months ago unequivocally stating “AMA supports continued ban on e-cigarettes and vaping”. These are the people that are now meant to be prescribing it? Give us a break.
On the odd chance they can get a prescription, users will then be forced to find a pharmacist who dispenses nicotine for vaping. Once again, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia has previously been on the record as stating, “the Guild is opposed to having these products in any schedule that would allow for sale in a pharmacy. The Guild does not support the sale of personal vapourisers in pharmacies, regardless of whether or not they contain nicotine”.
Inevitably, out of confusion or frustration, e-cigarette users may return to the more easily obtainable but more harmful way of consuming nicotine, specifically cigarettes.
If anything, the Government’s prescription model will only increase the prevalence and profitability of black market for shonky overseas online retailers who’ll supply e-cigarettes to anyone willing to pay for them – just like the illicit tobacco industry.
The 1 October deadline is fast approaching. We need to act now.
As an industry, we need to make it clear to the Federal Government they’ve got it wrong and we are done with our support being taken for granted.
As we’ve demonstrated before, we are a trusted industry.
We’ve accepted, lead and implemented countless regulatory changes to protect minors and non-smokers from tobacco, including ID checks, product display bans, and plain packaging.
There is no reason why existing measures on tobacco control, along with a new code of conduct and consumer protections, would not work to ensure Australian smokers have access to a less harmful alternative, without the needless waste of clogging up GP clinics with people who have already quit smoking.
We are ready and willing to work with the Government if they are willing to work with us.
If they continue to ignore us, then they are the ones putting public health at risk.
This article was written by Theo Foukkare, CEO, AACS, for the August/September issue of C&I Retailing Magazine.