Australian Vape Sales to be Restricted to Pharmacies

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Vape shop

The Federal Government has rolled back aspects of its recently introduced laws regulating e-cigarettes, also known as ‘vapes’, but Australia is still set to become the first nation on earth to restrict the sale of the potentially harm minimising product to pharmacies. 

The laws will mean that from Monday 1 July 2024, it will be unlawful to supply, manufacture, import or sell a vape other than by way of a pharmacy, although adults will not be required to have a prescription to purchase them.

A confusing web of ever-changing  laws 

Ever since the rise of popularity of vapes across Australia, governments have grappled with how to classify and regulate them.

In 2009 it placed a ban on nicotine vapes, with the Government seeking to prohibit the importing of nicotine liquid in mid-2020. 

However, the ban was dropped and a Senate inquiry was established instead, delivering its report in late 2020. 

In 2021, the federal government banned the sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine, making them available by way of a prescription only. 

To the general observer, while this might seem like a positive measure to protect the health of tobacco vapers, it meant that the ‘red tape’ these users had to go through, most likely meant they resorted back to traditional tobacco which, while expensive, is readily available. It’s important to note too, that the Federal Government, while claiming to want to curb smoking for the sake of the health of the population, profits significantly from the sale of tobacco. 

Effective from September last year, the Albanese Government raised tobacco tax by 5 percent per year for three years, which will result in an additional $3.3 billion in government revenue. 

Adding to the complexity of vaping laws, in January this year, a nationwide prohibition on the importation of single-use vapes came into effect, applying to both nicotine and non-nicotine vapes.

And since 1 March, the ban also applies to the importation of non therapeutic reusable vaping devices.

Back down from ‘prescription only’ nicotine vapes 

Now, new laws are set to go through Parliament next week and are expected to come into effect on 1 July 2024.  

Adults will be able to purchase vapes from pharmacies without a prescription from a GP, and those under 18 will be able to access vapes with a prescription if this is deemed to be clinically appropriate.

E-cigarettes available at pharmacies will still be regulated and subject to similar plain packaging requirements in place for tobacco and traditional cigarettes, and flavours will be limited to mint, menthol or tobacco.

Vaping and possession of a vape are not illegal 

Under the legislation, it will not be a criminal offence to personally possess a vape, however additional details will be written into the legislation to clarify offences that will be against the law “within a retail setting”. 

Vaping itself is not illegal either – although it is still subject to the same Smoke Free laws, which also apply to traditional smoking. Smoking and using e-cigarettes is banned in enclosed public areas including in shopping centres, cinemas, libraries, and public transport. 

Smoking and e-cigarette bans 

It is also banned in outdoor public areas such as sports grounds and public swimming pools, within within 4 metres of a pedestrian access point to a building and within 10 metres of school grounds and children’s playgrounds. 

Smoking and using e-cigarettes is also banned in commercial outdoor dining areas, and in cars, where there are passengers under the age of 16 years. 

 Smoking in a place where smoking is prohibited can attract on the spot fines of $300. 

In New South Wales there are two pieces of legislation which cover smoking and vaping bans – these are Smoke Free Environment Act 2000 and the Smoke Free Environment Regulation 2016.

In a statement this week, Health Minister Mark Butler said the government’s “world-leading laws” would return vapes to their original purpose: “as therapeutic products to help hardened smokers kick the habit” and to “protect young Australians and the broader community from the harms of recreational vaping…” 

To that end, the Government will also commit additional funding to help young Australians to quit the habit. It has been reported by the QUIT helpline that children as young as 13 have called, asking for help to stop vaping. 

While the Government’s thinking is to ultimately stop young people from taking up the habit, given that the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2022-23 found that daily vaping rates have increased from 1.1 percent of the population in 2019 to 3.5 percent in 2022/23.

However, the statistics also show that of those using nicotine liquid, which increases effectiveness in stopping smoking, 87 percent are sourcing it illegally.

The laws will be placed under review in three year’s time. 

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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