Industry associations are calling on the government to allow small businesses who currently sell cigarettes and other nicotine products to be given access to less harmful alternatives such as vaping or e-cigarettes.

The Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) and the National Retailers Association (NRA) have both recently highlighted that the Federal Government’s decisions regarding the sale of smoke free tobacco products will hurt Australian retailers.

After the Government announced a backflip on its previous ban on personal imports of e-cigarettes and vaping products, NRA Chief Executive Officer Dominique Lamb said the policy position was getting weirder by the day.

“Last month, smoke-free tobacco products were deemed so harmful that the government decided they could only be sold at a chemist, by prescription, with visits to a doctor every three months,” Lamb said.

“The same government says it will reverse its looming ban on importing vaping products, so individuals will be free to buy them from overseas dealers and have them shipped into Australia.

“The result is that these products are so tightly restricted that they are treated as a controlled drug, and also so loosely restricted that anyone can import them.

“The only people who will be banned from selling smoke-free tobacco products will be the tens of thousands of mum-and-dad retailers who currently rely on cigarette sales but are desperate to offer their customers a less harmful alternative.

“This government clearly supports overseas retailers as much as it supports big-box corporate pharmacy. It’s just a shame that it won’t support small, local Australian businesses.”

AACS has also pointed towards a growing black market for e-cigarettes and has highlighted the urgent need for Government to regulate the sale of these products through legitimate and responsible channels.

“There are positive health outcomes available to Australians through the regulated, legal sale of e-cigarettes, given they are significantly safer for people to use than traditional tobacco. Unfortunately, by restricting the legal sale of products which are clearly in demand, the health impacts of the Government’s approach are decidedly negative,” AACS CEO Jeff Rogut says.

“This refusal to catch up with the rest of the world in making safer choices easier for consumers has allowed the black market for vaping products of unknown ingredients and from dubious sources to grow in Australia.

“Clearly, consumers are looking for safer alternatives to smoking. If health authorities are serious about helping people quit tobacco, they need to make vaping products legally available through responsible retailing channels urgently.

“Otherwise, just like the market for illegal cigarettes, Australia will become an even more lucrative market for criminals supplying illegal e-cigarettes at street level.”

The recent interim decision by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to make vaping products only available to people from pharmacies with a prescription is both dangerous to health and a missed opportunity for responsible retailers, the AACS says.

“Australia’s approach of making it harder for our citizens to access products that are safer for them is unique in a global context,” Rogut 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. Australians deserve the choice.”

The NRA has labelled the plan to restrict smoke-free tobacco sales to pharmacies as “the worst of both worlds”, as it will detract from the tobacco revenue that many small businesses rely on, without allowing them access to a replacement product.

“But if that previous decision was the worst of both worlds, today’s decision is out of this world altogether. There seems to be no logic underpinning this knee-jerk policy making. On behalf of retailers who are already on their knees, we call on the side of politics that purports to care about business to stop favouring overseas operators and give Aussie mums and dads a fair go.”

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