Mixed feelings from experts on vape compromise

The federal government has amended its proposed vaping legislation in order to secure the Greens’ approval in the Senate.

Under the new change, vapes will be available over the counter through pharmacies, instead of available only via a prescription as originally proposed.

If the law passes the Senate, these changes will come into effect in October, as part of a suite of new laws aimed to control e-cigarettes. These laws, most of which come into effect on 1 July, include the ban of disposable vapes, the ban of vapes in flavours other than tobacco, mint, or menthol, and the enforcement of plain packaging.

“While it is disappointing that the amended law will now allow vapes to be available as pharmacy-only medicines, instead of requiring users to have a prescription, this legislation remains a world-first approach in preventing easy access to vapes,” says Associate Professor Becky Freeman, a tobacco researcher at the University of Sydney’s school of Public Health.

“Monitoring and enforcement will be crucial to ensuring the law prevents retailers from illegally selling vapes.”

Professor Jonine Jancey, a researcher in public health at Curtin University, agrees the “watered down” legislation is “disappointing”.

“It seems nicotine vape products will be sold as a schedule 3 drug in a pharmacy,” says Jancey.

“This means no longer will the doctor or nurse practitioner just prescribe the vape drug. Neither will they provide expert guidance regarding their use as a last-line smoking cessation device. Instead, they will be able to be bought by anyone over the counter.”

Professor Brian Oliver, who leads the respiratory molecular pathogenesis group at the University of Technology Sydney, says the proposed changes are “an illogical step backwards”.

“Our own research has shown how dangerous vaping is, these are not innocuous curiosities – these are very well designed nicotine delivery devices, designed to get as many people addicted to nicotine as possible,” says Oliver.

“The lack of a prescription now puts the responsibility on a pharmacist to decide who should be able to be dispensed a vape.  Do pharmacists want this responsibility?”

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia, which represents a large proportion of community pharmacies, vehemently opposes the new legislation.

“Pharmacists are healthcare professionals who dispense medication that provides a proven therapeutic benefit,” says the guild in a statement released yesterday.

“No vaping product has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration based on its safety, efficacy or performance. No vaping product is listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.”

The guild states that the amendment is a “bad decision.”

But the amendment has been tentatively welcomed by some researchers.

Dr Joshua Trigg, a behavioural scientist at Flinders University’s health and medical research institute, believes the new restrictions will “benefit the health of many Australians.”

“Directing access via pharmacies will provide a point of contact for people seeking pharmacotherapeutic support for their tobacco smoking cessation,” says Trigg.

“The removal of prescription requirement for adults via this route will alleviate some perceived barriers from the current approach. However, we will need to closely monitor how this affects youth access of these devices.”

Associate Professor Gary Chung Kai Chan, from the University of Queensland’s centre for youth substance research, agrees.

“This will achieve a better balance between two competing goals – improving access to smokers who want to quit using vape, and reducing access to non-smoking youth,” says Chan.

“From the past few years, we know that the prescription model did not work as intended because it increases the barrier for smokers, but at the same time did not seem to reduce youth access.

“The next step will be for the government to also restrict access to combustible cigarettes, which is the real killer in our country.

“It still does not make sense that combustible cigarettes are widely available while access to vapes, a much less harmful product, is more restricted.”

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