Doctor’s urgent warning on vape crackdown

·4-min read
A doctor who’s life work has been to stop Australians from smoking has slammed the government’s announcement as a “$234 million mistake”.Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard

A doctor specialising in helping people quit smoking has warned the Albanese government’s vaping crackdown will do more harm than good in trying to curb e-cigarette use.

Health Minster Mark Butler announced on Tuesday that Australia will ban the importation of non-prescription vapes, enforce plain packaging and bar convenience stores from selling them.

The crackdown is an attempt to have vapers only access e-cigarettes, with no flavours or attractive packaging, through a prescription.

Vapes will only be able to be legally purchased in pharmacies and will need to have plain packaging and flavours. Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard
Single use vapes will also be banned. Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard

The reforms were brought in to curb the use of e-cigarettes in Australia’s youth, with children who vape three times as likely to take up smoking.

One in six teenagers have vaped, with the rate increasing to one in four for those aged 18-24, according to Mr Butler.

However, the new reforms have been labelled as a “$234m mistake” by Dr Colin Mendelsohn, founding chairman of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association.

“There are 1.3 million adult vapers in Australia and less than 10 per cent have a prescription ... Butler’s sticking with the prescription model so we’re going to have most people still buying their products illegally,” Dr Mendelsohn said.

“The black market will just continue, it sells dodgy products to kids so we’re still going to have the same problem with youth supply and we don’t have proper regulation of most products.”

Dr Mendelsohn has urged the government to consider moving away from its prescription-based model.

“Our preferred model is that nicotine products should be available from licensed retail outlets – such as vape shops, convenience stores, supermarkets – as adult consumer products, like cigarettes without a prescription and with strict age restrictions,” he said.

Dr Mendelsohn warns the rules will fuel a vaping black market which could cause the problem to worsen. Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard

“So severe fines, loss of licence for breaches and that would just bring Australia into line with every other western country where that model is working.”

However, the Public Health Association of Australia supports the government’s approach, with the organisation’s chief executive saying the prescription model will support smokers trying to quit and bar children from accessing the products.

“The widespread, aggressive marketing of vaping products, particularly to children, is a worldwide scourge,” says Adjunct Professor Slevin.

“For smokers who are legitimately trying to quit using vapes, the prescription model pathway is and should be in place.

“But that should not be at the cost of creating a new generation of nicotine addicts among children and young people.”

The regulations have been welcomed by the Royal Australian College of GPs, the Australian Medical Association and the Public Health Association of Australia. Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard

The government’s announcement has also been welcomed by the Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) with the group’s president Dr Nicole Higgins saying the last thing the nation needs is a “new generation of nicotine users”.

“Nicotine vaping products are being sold featuring colourful flavours and we have even seen products featuring the same type of imagery as children’s breakfast cereal including cartoon characters,” Dr Higgins said.

“So, clearly companies are targeting children and these cynical tactics must be stopped immediately.”

However, Dr Mendelsohn, who also a member of the expert advisory group that developed the RACGP Australian national smoking cessation guidelines, argues vapes are “lifesaving” products for adults who are trying to quit smoking.

He cited a 2016 report from the Royal College of Practitioners which found that the hazard to people’s health arising from inhaling vapour was only five per cent of the danger caused by smoking tobacco.

“Smokers are exposed to over 7000 toxins and they’re in high dosage, in vapour there’s about 100 chemicals in very low doses,” he said.

“So it’s just common sense that there’s a risk because of the chemicals but it’s likely to be far less than smoking.”