Butler’s backflip. Still a disaster and bound to fail

Posted on June 25, 2024 By Colin

MARK BUTLER'S "WORLD-LEADING" Vaping Reform Bill is likely to pass the Senate with amendments, thanks to the support of the Greens. The Bill still requires a vote in the Senate to become law.

The Bill has been marginally improved by removing the need for a doctor's prescription to purchase vapes legally in Australia. Nicotine e-liquid is being reclassified from Schedule 4 to Schedule 3 on the Poisons List, meaning it can only be purchased from a pharmacy, directly from the pharmacist-only (not the sales assistant). S3 products also are not subject to GST, reducing any governement revenue from the change.

Even if passed, the new regulations are still fatally flawed and are the beginning of a slow motion collapse of Australia’s de facto prohibition vaping policy. Why?

Not supported by pharmacists

The powerful Pharmacy Guild, representing over 5,800 Australian pharmacies has expressed strong opposition to selling vapes. Pharmacists do not want to dispense unapproved products and it is likely that few will sell vapes. As one pharmacist said on X, “Without a TGA-regulated product available, no vape will be provided by pharmacists without a prescription.” The Minister has said that pharmacies will not be forced to sell vapes.

Pharmacists have no expertise in vaping and are mostly poorly informed. The ignorance of the Guild is breathtaking, its media release saying

Vaping has long-term patient harms, including cancer, lung-scarring and nicotine addiction. There is limited evidence to support the use of vaping products for smoking cessation and nicotine dependence

Pharmacists may also fear firebombings and robberies  that have affected vape shops.

Vapers will not support this model

Pharmacies will be selling products that many vapers don't want: tobacco, menthol and mint) flavours only and a small range of devices available. As one vaper said, "If I wanted tobacco flavour, I would have kept smoking."

Vapers want to use the products that have helped them quit, not the often-inferior and unappealing products that are being forced upon them.

Many ask why the harsh restrictions on flavours are still needed (ostensibly to protect children) if sales are protected behind a pharmacy counter.

Pharmacists will need to have a conversation with the user, provide information on health harms and offer alternative ways to stop smoking

The last thing a vaper wants is a dose of judgement from an uninformed pharmacist.

Adult vapers feel disenfranchised. Many ask why they were not consulted and why their views and needs were not considered. Many are determined to punish Labor and the Greens at the ballot box.

The criminal networks are celebrating

There is widespread consensus that the black market will continue to thrive. Costly policing and border control are no match for organised criminal networks and this highly lucrative industry will continue to provide alternatives.

The health minister has said that vapers will not be prosecuted for possessing illegal vapes, and many vapers will not purchase unappealing and costly products from a pharmacy if other options are available.

Vape shops will disappear

If the laws pass, the sale of vapes outside a pharmacy will be illegal from 1 July (it already is!). It is patently unfair that legitimate vape shops that have followed the law, never selling nicotine or selling to underage youth are going out of business without compensation. Owners, staff, and vapers are angry!

Vape shops provide expert advice and support and have helped hundreds of thousands of Australian smokers quit. Their loss is a disaster at many levels.

The Greens

Vapers have expressed huge disappointment with the Greens for what appears to be a political deal, rather than a public health decision. As one vaper wrote on X, “The Greens lost credibility when they like to state they support Harm Reduction and drug law reform and then they go and do this!”, "All for the sake of “supporting Butler’s vanity project!”

The clear choice remains

The adult consumer retail model remains the only workable choice.

As criminologist Dr James Martin noted, on X, “Seriously, why not have licensed vape retailers, that are subject to penalties if they sell to kids? We’ve driven down smoking and alcohol consumption amongst teens using precisely this model. All without denying adult consumers.”

This will come to pass in time as Butler's slow train wreck evolves and commonsense finally prevails.

Further information

Australian Science Media Centre, Expert Comments 24 June 2024

Pharmacy Guild Media Release, 24 June 2024

Medicinal vapes to be sold over the counter at pharmacies after Labor and Greens reach deal.  Guardian 24 June 2024

Government waters down vaping ban to win support of Greens. ABC News 24 June 2024

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