The Department of Health has halted the ban on importing nicotine liquids into Australia.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) was set to enforce the ban from July 1, which would prevent the import of e-cigarettes and nicotine refills for an initial 12 month period. Import penalties of up to $220,000 would also be introduced.
However health Minister Greg Hunt has now delayed the ban for six months to allow for the TGA to undertake a formal review and consultation process around the classification of nicotine in the Poisons Standard. The ban is now set to commence on January 1, 2021.
The move follows parliamentary pressure calling on the decision to be reversed, including a letter from 28 Liberal and Nationals MPs – including Barnaby Joyce, slamming the ban.
In a statement on delaying the ban, Minister Hunt said the decision was made to assist those who were using vaping to help them quit smoking.
“In order to assist this group in continuing to end that addiction we will therefore provide further time for implementation of the change by establishing a streamlined process for patients obtaining prescriptions through their GP,” he said.
“For this reason, the implementation timeframe will be extended by six months to 1 January 2021. People should always be consulting their GP on these health matters and ensuring this is the right product for them. This will give patients time to talk with the GP, discuss the best way to give up smoking, such as using other products including patches or sprays, and if still required, will be able to gain a prescription.”
However CEO of the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores Jeff Rogut argues the policy should be abandoned altogether, as it would make it harder for people to quit tobacco smoking.
Mr Rogut said there are 400,000 ex-smokers in Australia who now use vaping and as it is legal, regulated and taxed in every OECD nation bar Turkey and Australia, the government should instead look to better regulate the Australian market.
“Making it harder for people to access products that research shows are safer than traditional tobacco, and which have helped many people quit smoking, makes no sense. We need to make it easier for people to access such products,” Mr Rogut said.
“And we need to do it as safely and responsibly as we can. This means ensuring vaping products are of a mandated quality, that their ingredients are known and clearly displayed, that they are sold in tamper-proof packaging, and that they are sold to adult consumers only through responsible retailing channels.”
Mr Rogut also argued many would be reluctant to seek a prescription from a GP and many GPs reluctant to prescribe vaping products, which he said would fuel a black market.
“We know from the spike in illicit tobacco in Australia that criminals are more than capable of flooding the market with illegal products to satisfy consumer demand for cheaper alternatives to excessively taxed legal tobacco. It will be the same with vaping if we don’t regulate the legal sale of vaping products, and a black market for these products has already emerged,” he said.
“We need the Australian Government to progress in line with the rest of the world and regulate the legal sale of e-cigarettes, with products of known quality and ingredients, sold through proven responsible channels. Then, and only then, can we genuinely offer Australian smokers a safer alternative to smoking, and another option to help them quit for good.”