More restrictions coming in Australia?

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Australia currently have one of, if not, the harshest regulations on vaping out of all the countries that have restrictions and regulations on vaping and the things involved with it. Since 2020, Australia has imposed a ban on vape juice that contains nicotine being sold at a retail level, and instead making it only available to people if they have a prescription written from a doctor.

There have been massive flaws unveiled in this plan since the regulations came into effect, with black market sales of disposable vapes being at worryingly high levels, a small percentage of doctors actually only able to write prescriptions for nicotine vape juice, and the number of pharmacies that actually have the right things to dispense and would be willing to is few and far between.

The head of the Therapeutic Goods Association who were behind this ban coming into place even said the system is failing and a review was needed, but recently a review has been done and instead of improving it, they’re actually planning to make it worse than it already is! Let’s get into this in more detail.

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The problems with the ban

As mentioned, a ban on nicotine containing vape juice was introduced in 2020, meaning that vapers could only obtain their vape juice that contained nicotine with a valid prescription obtained from their GP. This caused massive uproar when it was announced and it was met with widespread criticism from various different outlets around the globe, let alone locally.

Recently this year, Dr Colin Mendelsohn wrote a year on review since the ban came into effect and highlighted all of the problems that have followed in the year of this ban being implemented, and it did not make for comfortable reading. Dr Colin revealed that black market sales of disposable vape devices that contain nicotine had skyrocketed in Australia, with corner shops, petrol stations and even Uber drivers selling them underhandedly to any customer whether they were of legal vaping age or not. Criminal gangs were even getting involved in selling them as a way to extort some extra cash alongside their other activities.

It was also revealed only 1% of Doctors in Australia actually had taken the necessary course and training to be able to write a valid prescription to patients to get nicotine containing vape juice from a pharmacy. There’s over 100,000 registered Doctor’s in the country of Australia, and only 1% of them can write prescriptions, crazy! The other problem that goes hand in hand with this is not many pharmacies have the capabilities to be able to dispense the vape juice that contains nicotine. They either haven’t had the correct training, or do not have the supplies to make the vape juice that is required on the prescription.

This whole nicotine ban was designed to discourage the youth of Australia from vaping, and not make it as accessible as previous for them to potentially develop a nicotine addiction. However, this has had the polar opposite effect as mentioned, black market sales are booming and kids are buying and using Disposable vapes more than before the ban was implemented!

An admission of failure

In November 2022, the Head of the Therapeutic Goods Association, Professor John Skerrit stood and answered questions regarding the failure of this nicotine ban that the TGA had a huge part in making become a reality. The whole thing was a disaster to watch unfold, and it was a little bit embarrassing for him to have to face the facts of what exactly has gone wrong.

He acknowledged the fact that youth vaping had dramatically increased, huge numbers of low-quality products are entering and being sold in the country via illegal channels, the fact that only 1% of doctors can prescribe nicotine contained vape juice, and less than 10% of adult vapers who actually need a prescription currently hold a valid prescription to get the nicotine contained vape juice.

Professor Skerritt went on to, in a way contradict himself, by saying that “they should be proud for what they have done on vaping” shortly after saying the words “the current regime we have doesn’t seem to be working at all” it baffles me where his head was at during this speech he was giving. He also acknowledged that youth vaping numbers has drastically increased but then declared “the horse has already bolted” when it comes to the topic of vaping. That’s such a positive outlook on things from Professor Skerritt don’t you think? Professor Skerritt denied that the black market for unregulated vapes was the TGA’s fault and effectively played the “not our fault” card when it was asked about.

At the time of the first introduction of these regulations, it was promised there would be a review of the regulations at 3, 6 and 12 month marks, but as expected these did not happen. Instead what did happen was a secret meeting of “vaping experts” organised by the TGA where the changes that will be introduced were discussed and agreed to be put forward for consultation. Spoiler alert: they’re a lot worse than the current regulations. Let’s take a look shall we…

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The new regulations that are up for consultation

Recently, the TGA published their plans going forward for regulations being introduced in Australia for public consultation and debate and they were met with almost immediate disrepute and uproar. Their defence of these regulations being implemented was that they were aimed at preventing children and adolescents from obtaining nicotine vaping products easily like they currently are available to them, while supporting the access of a known working smoking cessation with the approval and prescription from a doctor.

Increasing Border Force

The primary focus on these regulations was to up the enforcement levels by Border Force teams which makes the most sense. It’s been proven that black market sales of Disposable Vapes are absolutely booming in the country, and with them not being able to get through the countries national postage system it’s quite obvious they are passing through illegal channels and being bought into the country. People are being able to import vaping products by the sender of them not labelling them as “nicotine containing” and therefore they are passing through with ease. I understand that the Border Force team’s are likely under high pressure and stress so getting extra resources and support for them is the right thing to do.

Banning of flavours and additives

A big thing that has caused to most controversy is the move to add more flavourings and additives that are used in vape juice to the already existing banned substance list which features things like formaldehyde, diacetyl and other ingredients which can be hazardous to health if vaped. The TGA’s desire to restrict flavour options also goes hand in hand with their want to reduce nicotine concentrations as well as putting scary and unnecessary health warnings on the bottles of vape juice as well.

This is just such a further backward step in the wrong direction to what they were already going in by banning flavours and reducing the nicotine concentrations. I just don’t understand why they think this is a good idea!

Their reasoning is to stop making vaping attractive to adolescents and youth by restricting the choices of “delicious and tempting” flavours, but in reality it’s just punishing current adult vapers who have relied on E-Cigarettes and vape juice to help them quit smoking are already having to jump through hoops to try and get vape juice that contains nicotine, and now there is the high chance that more hoops are going to have to be jumped through to keep getting the flavours that they are accustomed to.

Reference was made to what Canada have implemented with the banning of specific flavours, as well as New Zealand only allowing flavours other than tobacco and mint flavours to be sold in “Specialist Vape Shops” in the country. The difference between these two countries and Australia is their policies are actually working and don’t have any other crazy regulations alongside them like what the Aussies have implemented.

Plain packaging and nicotine concentration reductions

They also want to adopt the “plain packaging” approach that Israel have implemented where all vaping related products are sold in plain packaging of one specific colour (Israel only uses brown packaging for example) so this makes it less attractive to younger generations to want to use. They also want to add large warnings on the packaging, including images which are very similar to those seen on cigarette packets in the UK.

A proposal of the introduction of nicotine concentration reductions from the current levels they are currently. The current regulations specify a maximum of 100mg/ml, meaning that disposable vapes containing nicotine were being sold before the ban in 50mg nicotine strengths.

This regulation is considered so it would fall in line with other countries (mentioning the UK as we cap it at 20mg) This seems a little bit lacklustre of them though and to quote them “the horse has already bolted” at this point, considering nicotine containing vape juice is already hard enough to come by, regardless of the strength.

More effort to get GPs correctly trained and able to prescribe nicotine vape juice

A declaration was made that there would be a conscious effort to get more GPs registered to be able to issue prescriptions for nicotine containing vape juice to patients who need it. As I have mentioned, there is currently only 1% total of 130,000+ GPs in the country of Australia who have the ability to issue these prescriptions, and more needs to be done to boost these numbers up.

This is probably the only thing out of all the revisions and new regulations they want to enforce that makes sense to actually do, and I hope this is actioned to try and help the vaping community of Australia out who actually needs it!

Conclusion

As you may have guessed, I’m not a fan of these regulations that are up for debate in the slightest as they just do not make sense, and I’m also not a fan of the nicotine vape juice only being accessible via prescription, mainly because people cannot get their hands on a prescription let alone getting the vape juice itself.

More education could be distributed within the country for people to gain more knowledge on E-Cigarettes, and perhaps a bit more forthcoming towards them would happen. 

Enforcing more regulations in the country when current regulations are not working just doesn’t make sense to me. When an authoritative figure from the TGA admits, the regulations aren’t really working knowing full well that more regulations had already been agreed and were soon being put forward for consideration is insane really. The process is up for consultation until mid-January 2023, and I believe everyone who has a say on the matter will have their say, and it doesn’t fall on deaf ears and is considered in the correct fashion. I’ll be keeping a close watch on this unfolding and reporting back with a follow up article as usual.

Source: Consultation: (tga.gov.au)

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