Australia is “losing the public health battle” on vaping, the nation’s peak doctors’ body says, calling for nicotine vape products to only be available as a tool to quit smoking and then only as a last resort.
The Australian Medical Association wants flavours to be removed from vapes in a effort to discourage use, especially among young people, as well as dramatically reducing the maximum amount of nicotine allowed. It comes as the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, discouraged use of the products, simply saying “don’t vape”.
The federal Therapeutic Goods Administration is running a public consultation on proposed reforms to the regulation of nicotine vaping products.
NVPs can be legally obtained through a personal importation scheme, which allows those with a prescription to directly import three months’ supply for personal use, as well as doctors being able to prescribe NVPs to patients as an aid to quit smoking.
A TGA consultation paper found that despite NVPs only being lawfully available from pharmacies with a prescription, there is a “black market” among children and those without prescriptions.
“It is apparent that the regulations are not achieving their intended purpose,” the paper said, pointing to recent studies showing growing use of vapes among young people and those who never previously smoked.
The AMA submission, released Monday, calls for the end of the personal importation scheme, and stricter customs controls on all vaping products.
“Australia is losing the public health battle on vaping and improving safety and removing loopholes in their regulation is essential to reversing this,” it said.
It also wants “major adjustments” to TGA rules to “limit nicotine concentration, remove flavours and introduce packaging requirements” for vapes, as well as restricting the ability for those products to be prescribed in the first place.
“The aim of regulating NVPs must be to limit their use only for the intended purpose of smoking cessation, and to ensure these unproven products are as safe as possible,” the AMA wrote.
The AMA suggested allowable nicotine content be reduced from the current 100mg/ml to 20mg/ml. It also said it was alarmed at the challenges in monitoring the personal importation scheme, claiming there were no requirements for warning statements or child-resistant packaging on the imported products.
Instead, the AMA said NVP packaging should be plain and include warning labels about containing an addictive substance.
“The AMA believes that flavours for all vaping products should be restricted to stop flavour being an attractive quality of vapes for younger people,” the submission read, noting that taste was an important consideration in children taking up the habit.
In a separate submission released Monday, the Young Liberal movement of Australia called the nation’s current approach “prohibition” and advocated for widening access to NVPs as a smoking cessation aid in order to bypass overseas products.
“Australia’s current regulatory framework for nicotine vaping products supports a black market of illegal, foreign-sourced products that put nicotine vaping product users at risk. These markets have zero oversight and do not comply with strict laws that regulate other nicotine products, such as cigarettes,” the Young Liberal president, Clark Cooley, wrote.
In a radio interview with 2Day FM on Monday, Albanese was asked about vaping when one host said he had recently taken up the habit.
“That’s a bad idea,” Albanese responded.
“Don’t smoke and don’t vape – there’s a bit of evidence you can get hooked on vaping as well.”
On 1 January, the environment minister Tanya Plibersek encouraged Australians to give up vaping as a new year resolution, claiming tobacco companies were intentionally marketing vape flavours and packaging that would appeal to a younger market.
“Obviously it’s bad for your health, but it’s also terrible for the environment. Every vape that goes into landfill dumps plastic, poisons, nicotine salts, heavy metals, lead, mercury, and flammable lithium-ion batteries into the environment,” she tweeted.
Plibersek called for Australians to “stop a new generation from picking up a habit that is even worse for the environment than tobacco”.