Vaping Bill Passes: A Pyrrhic Victory for Mark Butler [Media release]

Posted on June 26, 2024 By Colin

Today, the Labor government’s amended *Vaping Reform Bill was successfully passed in the federal Senate. Starting from 1 October 2024, vapes will be available only through pharmacies as a pharmacist-only (Schedule 3) medicine, removing the need for a doctor’s prescription.

While seen as a victory for Health Minister Mark Butler, this legislation will face substantial challenges within a year. This approach benefits organised crime and the black market while undermining public health, adult smokers and vapers, youth, and the vaping industry.

The pharmacy-only model emerged from a last-minute agreement with the Australian Greens. It replaces the failed prescription model but is equally problematic. The Pharmacy Guild, which represents Australian pharmacies, has voiced strong opposition, citing a lack of consultation and clarity on logistics, financial implications, and training requirements. It remains doubtful if enough pharmacists will participate, with those who do, expected to offer only a limited product range and insufficient expertise to provide meaningful advice.

This model does not address the government’s stated priority of reducing youth vaping rates. Instead, it will inadvertently bolster the black market which will continue to supply unregulated, high-nicotine, flavoured nicotine vapes freely to young people

Historical evidence suggests that once a black market is well-established for a high-demand product, stringent measures like heavy fines and intense policing rarely succeed in dismantling it.

The public can expect to witness an escalation in crime, including firebombing of vape and tobacco shops, extortion, and the potential involvement of young people in criminal activity, with the grave risk of harm to innocent bystanders.

Additionally, it is unlikely that many adult vapers will purchase supplies from pharmacies

The limited range of unpalatable flavours and a narrow product range will discourage vapers who rely on more diverse and more appealing products to maintain cessation from smoking.

There are also substantial financial costs for this plan. The government will forgo potential tax revenue since Schedule 3 medicines are exempt from GST. The economy will be deprived of thriving vape retail and manufacturing sectors. The costs associated with increased policing and border control efforts to combat the black market will be substantial and will divert resources from more pressing crime problems.

New Zealand, where vapes are sold as regulated adult consumer products in licensed retail outlets, demonstrates a much more effective approach. Since the regulation of vaping in 2020, New Zealand has seen a decline in adult smoking at more than twice the rate of Australia, without a significant illicit market or significant criminal activity. The youth vaping rate, initially rising, has begun to stabilise.

The pharmacy model will fail just as the prescription model did. By regulating vapes as adult consumer products available in licensed retail outlets, we can better support adult smokers to quit, curb youth vaping, and eliminate the flourishing vape black market.

*Therapeutic Goods and Other Legislation Amendment (Vaping Reforms) Bill 2024 [Link]


Dr Colin Mendelsohn
Founding Chairman, Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association
M: 0415 976 783 |

Dr Alex Wodak AM
Emeritus Consultant, St Vincents’ Hospital Alcohol and Drug Service, Sydney
0416 143 823 |

Dr James Martin
Criminologist, Deakin University, Melbourne
0402 273 181 |

Fiona Patten
Former MP Victorian Parliament, President of Australian Smokefree Alternatives Consumer Association
0413 734 613 |


None of us has accepted funding from the e-cigarette or tobacco industries

Postscript. What is a pyrrhic victory?

A Pyrrhic victory (/ˈpɪrɪk/ ⓘ PIRR-ik) is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat.[1] Such a victory negates any true sense of achievement or damages long-term progress.

The phrase originates from a quote from Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose triumph against the Romans in the Battle of Asculum in 279 BC destroyed much of his forces, forcing the end of his campaign.


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