Australia’s experiment with prescription-only vapes – a spectacular policy failure

Posted on September 29, 2022 By Colin

THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT'S medical, prescription-only model for nicotine vaping was introduced by Greg Hunt on 1 October 2021. After 12-months, it has been a resounding and predictable policy failure.

Please click here for my full report and watch a short 50-second video here

The regulations were intended to prevent youth vaping and to allow access for adult smokers as a smoking cessation aid. After 12 months, it is clear that they have only made things worse as predicted by ATHRA.

A thriving black market

Predictably, this prohibitionist model has created a thriving black market selling illegal, unregulated vaping products that do not comply with Australian standards. Massive numbers of poor quality devices are being imported from China and are widely sold by tobacconists, convenience stores, online and on social media.

There is no quality control for illegal products and the black market sells freely to children. Criminal organisations are becoming increasingly involved.

Enforcement of the black market is negligible. Prosecutions by state and territory Health Departments are rare. Businesses often resume selling illegal products within weeks of a raid.

Interceptions of illegal imports by the Australian Border Force are extremely rare and the vast majority of illegal imports are not detected.

The widespread availability of disposable nicotine vapes on the black market has devastated the legal retail vape industry. Many shops have reported a substantial decline in sales and some have closed as a result.

Increased teen vaping

Vaping by adolescents has skyrocketed since the new regulations began

There are almost daily media reports of widespread youth vaping. High-nicotine (5-6%) disposable vapes are freely sold to under-age users by tobacconists, convenience stores, petrol stations and even in Ubers. Devices are easily purchased on social media, often with a home delivery service.



There are increasing reports from schools of teens vaping in toilets and the classroom. Some schools are installing vape detectorsremoving toilet doors, locking toilets during class hours, installing security camerassuspending students for vaping at school and confiscating vapes. There are reports of students becoming nicotine-dependent and unable to stop vaping and of other adverse effects. Children from as young as five have been reported using vapes.

Reduced access for adults

Only a tiny minority of vapers have a nicotine prescription. The exact number is unknown but surveys range from 3-12%, here and here.

It is difficult to find a doctor who will prescribe nicotine. In June 2022, less than 1% of GPs (200 out of 31,000) were publicly listed by the TGA as nicotine prescribers.

Doctors are skeptical of vaping. They are constantly exposed to negative advice from government and health organisations and mainstream media. GPs also fear legal risks from prescribing products that are not approved by the TGA (medicines regulator).

GPs also know very little about vaping and have had minimal training. Most do not even know how to write a nicotine prescription.  It is no wonder that many vapers or would-be vapers can’t get a prescription.

Legal access is complex, onerous and costly. It is far easier to buy deadly cigarettes.

In any case, many smokers do not see themselves as patients in need of medicines to stop smoking and have rejected the need to see a doctor.

Only a handful of Australian community and online pharmacies dispense nicotine liquid. Those that do stock nicotine products have a very small range to choose from. Only 2% of purchases were from a pharmacy in 2022, the government’s preferred model.

The way forward

The only way to eliminate an illicit market is to replace it with a legal and regulated one.

Nicotine liquid should be an adult consumer product, sold from licensed retail outlets such as vape shops, convenience stores, tobacconists and general stores where tobacco is sold

There should be strict age-verification and severe penalties and loss of licence for under-age sales, with strict enforcement.

Australia’s experiment has failed. We need to admit the mistake and bring vaping nicotine into line with all other western countries before more Australian smokers die unnecessarily.


Mendelsohn CP. 12-month review of Australia's nicotine vaping regulations, 1 October 2022

Australia's vaping experiment has failed. The Spectator Australia. 30 September 2022

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