A Clearer Picture of the Vape Regulations Coming Ahead for Australia

As Australia's Mark Butler presses on with his agenda to further restrict vaping products, experts in the field brace themselves the consequences of these measures.

Health Minister Mark Butler has stated said that he aims to implement “the toughest vaping laws in the world” to address vaping, which he perceives as a public health threat. While tobacco harm reduction (THR) experts have consistently explained that the proposed changes include legislative and regulatory measures which are likely to keep feeding the the local black market, and therefore increase criminal activity, as well as unintended outcomes for vapers and smokers.

Vaping legally would still require a prescription, with all GPs authorized to prescribe without further applications. Whether the products contain nicotine or not, vape sales would still remain strictly restricted to pharmacies. Flavours would be limited to tobacco and a mild mint flavour while the nicotine concentration limit remains undecided, with some suggesting aligning with the UK’s 20mg/mL limit.

The personal importation of vapes for personal use will be prohibited, and only stock intended for pharmacy sales will be allowed. Importers will require licenses, and penalties for illegal importation or supply, will include fines and imprisonment.
The advertising restrictions for vaping products are expected to align with those for tobacco. Vape products will be subjected to pharmaceutical-like packaging, displaying nicotine content and graphic warnings, while bright colors and appealing names will be banned. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is expected to present upgraded standards, underlining the list of allowed ingredients, as well as quality and safety standards.

Support for vapers seeking to quit will be provided, with details on this yet to be announced. While the processes of product approval notifications remain unclear, raising questions about pre-market assessments or approvals based on manufacturers’ statements.

While an import ban on disposable vaping products is set to be enforced by the end of November 2023, the timeline for all the changes varies, with some expected by the end of the year and others in 2024. Overall, these proposed measures aim to significantly restrict vaping, which THR experts argue will pose potential challenges for both users and the industry.

Restrictions on vapes lead to increased smoking rates
In fact the recent study “E-cigarette Flavor Restrictions’ Effects on Tobacco Product Sales,” conducted by a number of public health researchers, found that following the implementation of flavour restrictions in the US, for every flavoured pod which was not sold, 15 additional regular cigarettes were. This led to the conclusion that the flavour restrictions drove vapers to switch back to regular cigarettes. In fact, the study confirmed that the cigarette brands most common with young people, saw a resulting increase in sales.

Smoking cessation expert Dr. Colin Mendelsohn explained that legislation and regulations would play distinct roles in the changes proposed for Australia. Legislation, would require approval from both houses of Parliament, and would include the end of the Personal Importation Scheme, import bans on disposables, penalties for illegal importation, and advertising restrictions.

While under the discretion of the Minister for Health or the TGA, regulations would cover aspects like import licenses, quality standards, nicotine concentration limits, pharmaceutical-like packaging, and support programs for quitting. Mendelsohn added that this distinction between legislation and regulations adds complexity to the implementation of these measures.