The Albanese government will amend federal legislation to prohibit the “importation, manufacture and supply” of vapes that are not therapeutic, with pharmacists responsible for refilling the devices for those who need them for medical reasons.
The proposed changes outlined in a secret consultation paper shared with industry, mean single-use vapes would be banned under the Therapeutic Goods Act, with refillable vapes intended for “therapeutic use” to be exclusively available through pharmacies.
People who can use vapes for medical reasons would be able to access only the mint or tobacco flavours.
The importation of all vapes would be prohibited, unless the Office of Drug Control issued a permit, to assist the Australian Border Force to “distinguish between lawful and unlawful vapes”.
The government will also close the Personal Importation Scheme that allows Australians to import three months’ worth of vaping products, citing concerns that the scheme is “prone to abuse and diversion of vapes for illegitimate supply”.
“The government is proposing to prohibit the importation, manufacture and supply of any vapes that are not therapeutic vapes by relying on the federal cooperative scheme for therapeutic goods,” the paper said.
“Under this approach, therapeutic vapes will need to be included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods or subject to appropriate regulatory controls … to be lawfully imported, manufactured or supplied in Australia.
“Consistent with the government’s policy announcement, therapeutic vapes should only be accessed by patients under medical supervision and supplied in pharmacies with a prescription.”
Advertising vapes would also be banned under the reforms and sold in pharmaceutical-like packaging emblazoned with the warning: “This product contains nicotine, which is a highly addictive substance”.
The government has also proposed granting new powers “relating to the forfeiture and destruction” of illegal vapes and making “enforceable directions relating to the importation, manufacture, supply, advertisement and possession of therapeutic goods”.
The crackdown, including a limit on flavours and colours, was foreshadowed by Health Minister Mark Butler, who announced his intentions to stamp out vapes in May, in response to spiralling numbers of children vaping.
Australian Association of Convenience Stores Theo Foukkare said he was concerned the pharmacy-only model supported did nothing to combat the rampant availability of black market vapes, with 92 per cent of vapes being sold outside pharmacies.
“They can’t say, ‘we’re going to clamp down at the border and we’re going to clamp down on the ground’, but they’re not investing in the border and they’re not investing in enforcement for the states,” he said.
Harm Reduction Australia ambassador Alex Wodak said vaping was a viable alternative to smoking, advocating for vapes to be regulated like tobacco and sold in specialist stores rather than prescribed by a doctor.
“Basically for me it’s lipstick on a pig, to be honest,” Dr Wodak said. “There are some improvements but there is more wrong with it than right, and it still continues to regard vaping as a medical intervention.
“Once you start from there you inevitably end up in the wrong place.”
Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association founder Colin Mendelsohn said the drastic reduction in flavours under the model would make vaping a less attractive alternative to smoking. “I’ve got no doubt a year from now we’ll look back down the track and say that didn’t work, and there will be people who will go back to smoking,” he said.
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