Vapes should be sold from behind the counter under the same strict regulations as cigarettes, say the nation’s convenience stores, which argue it is the only way to counter the thriving black market in e-cigarettes .
The head of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores, Theo Foukkare, said the current poorly enforced restrictions on vapes had led to unregulated use among children as well as millions of dollars in lost revenue for retailers and the government.
The industry group’s submission to a review by the Therapeutic Goods Agency adds to a polarising debate over how best to deal with Australia’s runaway vaping market , after the federal government began consulting late last year on ways to deal with e-cigarette demand from school-aged children.
Health groups including the Cancer Council and the Minderoo Foundation have called for a total ban on non-prescription vapes and for stronger action to stop illegal imports at the border, warning of adverse health outcomes from e-cigarette use. Meanwhile, pro-vaping groups and some doctors promote vaping as a smoking cessation tool and warn against excessive regulation.
Their proposals, as well as those from health experts and state governments , will be made public by the TGA after submissions close. Laws introduced by the Coalition in 2021 require people to obtain a doctor’s prescription to buy legal vape products. However, the restrictions have not stemmed consumer use or illicit supply: NSW Health data published this year showed 11 per cent of people aged between 16 and 24 years old reported being vape users – more than double the number reported in 2020.
In Victoria, a five-year-old boy was hospitalised in February last year after vaping at school and consuming high doses of nicotine and other chemicals. In the submission by the convenience store industry group, Foukkare said vaping was now ‘‘ completely mainstream in Australia’’ and the government would never be able to stop young people using the products under current regulations.
‘‘The right way forward is tight regulation with standards in place, and allowing adults to purchase regulated nicotine vapes through a licensed framework for responsible retailers,’’ he told The Age.
The association represents about 7000 stores and counts Philip Morris, British American Tobacco (BAT) and Imperial Brands among its members. It is also part of BAT’s responsible vaping movement.
Foukkare said there was an obvious financial benefit for his members, who have been reporting significant declines in tobacco sales, but modelling that his group had commissioned from Roy Morgan showed that the government was also missing out on $300 million in tax revenue as sales continued under the counter. ‘‘We have young kids buying unregulated products being imported by dodgy operators.
Nobody knows what’s in them,’’ he said. ‘‘ If I look at how alcohol and tobacco is managed, they are both strictly regulated with control around retail sale, product standards, age verification . That’s how this needs to be managed.’’ Federal Health Minister Mark Butler is due to meet his state and territory counterparts on the issue once the TAG has completed its review.
When launching the TGA consultation late last year, Butler said the government had not reached a view on whether it would pursue a licensed e-cigarette scheme such as that in place in New Zealand. ‘‘But I don’t want to see anything off the table,’’ he said.
The government’s six-week consultation process closed yesterday after attracting submissions from a range of interested parties including state health departments, doctors, health organisations and pro-vaping groups. Copyright © 2023 The Age
Theo Foukkare is available for interview on 0423 003 133
Media contact – Rhett Burnie – 0411 830 126
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