We wrote to all political parties about vaping recently. Until recently, all parties supported the prescription model. Now the Nationals, NSW and Tasmanian Greens support sensible regulation of vapes as adult consumer products.
Senator Malcolm Roberts from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation wrote back to reaffirm their long-standing support for removing the prescription model and regulating vapes like cigarettes and alcohol.
It is currently illegal to purchase any e-liquids or e-cigarettes containing nicotine in Australia. It shouldn’t be. Thousands of pages of science and data support the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as an aid to quit smoking. Public health England has found the available evidence suggests that e-cigs are likely to be considerably less harmful than cigarettes. Senator Roberts supports e-cigarettes being available given the evidence that is available.
For ‘public health’ reasons, nicotine vaping products (NVPs) came under strict regulation after instruction from the state and federal governments. Vaping products – which now require a prescription – are commonly used as a replacement for harmful alternatives such as cigarettes and cigars.
Despite being widely acknowledged in global studies as an effective tool for quitting smoking, they were put under prescription-only use to, ‘balance the need to prevent adolescents and young adults from taking-up nicotine vaping (and potentially smoking).’ Oddly, young adults can still take up smoking directly without a prescription.
There is no guarantee a prescription will be issued, even to existing smokers looking to quit. The comments made alongside the regulatory change make it clear that doctors are ‘under no obligation to prescribe a nicotine vaping product if they do not think it’s appropriate’ and add a strong preference for using existing gums and patches.
‘From October 1, 2021, consumers require a prescription for all purchases of nicotine vaping products, such as nicotine e-cigarettes, nicotine pods and liquid nicotine. This includes purchases from Australian pharmacies and from overseas. It remains illegal for other Australian retailers, such as tobacconists, ‘vape’ shops and convenience stores, to sell you nicotine vaping products, even if you have a prescription.’
–Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)
This poses a risk of establishing a ‘Nicotine Vaping Cartel’.
Cartels act like monopolies, and whether this was intentional or accidental by the state and federal governments, consumers will find the price of vaping products kept artificially high. At the same time, quantity and quality are likely to fall.
None of this appears to be in the interest of ‘public health’. Vaping products are primarily used by smokers to help them quit, with vaping being 95 per cent less harmful (according to the Royal College of Physicians in the UK)
Smoking and vaping are entwined industries – being substitutes, not complements – of each other. The responsiveness of these interlinked industries is known as ‘elasticity’ by economists.
There have been dozens of studies in the past decade, including the 2021 Canadian study which found: ‘The literature on cross-price elasticity emerging from the analysis of massive data banks [supports] that the two product types are substitutes rather than complements.’
A 2021 American study inter alia further quantified that: ‘A $1.00 increase in e-cigarette prices reduces e-cigarette sales by roughly 29 per cent, while a $1.00 increase in cigarette prices reduces cigarette sales by roughly 7 per cent.’ While a 2018 Australian study concluded: ‘Countries with less restrictive NVP policies would be associated with lower cigarette demand.’
In short, when a government encourages vaping, it eats away at the tobacco market share. Surely, this would be in the interest of ‘public health’?
The question has to be asked why both Australia’s state and federal governments are going out of their way to demonise vaping when their stated objective is citizen health. Cui bono, or who benefits?
Financially, the producers and tax beneficiaries of cigarette sales stand to lose the most from a thriving vaping market. In particular, Australia’s ‘sacred’ Therapeutic Goods Administration – who imposed the regulation – relies on these industries for funds. The TGA states, ‘the vast majority (around 96 per cent) of [their] funding is generated through [industry] fees and charges.’
This 96 per cent translates into around $178 million out of their $185 million 2020-21 revenue. While not all of it comes from the smoking industry, some of it does.
The new laws are already in force, with a $170,000 worth of fines issued to vaping advertisers and importers by the TGA in November, one month after they were implemented. Included in this figure were eight infringement notices worth $106,560 given to Mason Online regarding alleged advertising breaches.
The TGA’s 2020 Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) formed the basis for the Medical Vaping Regime (MVR). It had all the hallmarks of a predetermined outcome in favour of a Monopoly Medical Model. That is, it did not seriously consider any practical alternatives like a Competitive Consumer Model, there were no proper cost benefit analysis performed, and the regulator undertook their own review.
The latter is the most concerning, given it does not align with the Australian standard of best practice since the formation of the National Competition Policy (NCP).
The TGA vaping hub has a web page regarding the next scheduled review of the MVR where it says: ‘The regulatory reforms will be reviewed in the second half of 2022.’ There is really only one organisation in Australia capable of undertaking a well-rounded, unbiased, and inclusive review of MVR: the Productivity Commission (PC) – more specifically in terms of the Productivity Commission Act 1998 (PC Act).
Senator Roberts is naturally very suspicious of any overly big institutions and businesses, but the TGA’s hypocrisy on ‘freezing out’ Big Tobacco whilst unashamedly ‘being in bed’ with Big Pharma really does go ‘beyond the pale’.
The TGA always justifies this through Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control requiring that: ‘In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.’
Firstly, Australia is sovereign, not controlled the WHO and their overlords in Beijing. Secondly, ‘public health policies’ should not be about ‘tobacco control’ and prohibition, but about Tobacco Harm Reduction for free and consenting adults. Thirdly, Big Med, Big Pharma, Big Public Health, and Big Government are just as much ‘commercial and vested interests’ as Big Tobacco. All of them have jaded pasts with despicable political regimes. Big Pharma is no better than Big Tobacco.
Senator Roberts believes that if the government is serious about reducing tobacco-related harm and deaths, it should consider making vape more easily available to smokers seeking to quit or at least reduce the harm their nicotine addiction may cause to themselves and others
This would be preferable to the current policy of making tobacco so expensive that some nicotine addicts – many from low-income families – have foregone buying food and medicine or paying their bills in order to afford another pack of smokes.