Authorities believe Australian pharmacies and consumers will be able to see through Philip Morris International (PMI)’s marketing tactics for e-cigarettes.
However, they urge regulators to spur progress towards a vaping product that is registered in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) as a tested and approved smoking cessation device.
After initially campaigning against the Australian prescription system, PMI changed tactics and moved to try and get its nicotine products to consumers through this route to market.
When its initial plan to offer cash payments to pharmacists that dispensed Veev vaping products fizzled following complaints from the medical, pharmacy and public health communities, PMI switched to supplying pharmacists with Veev vaping products at an 80% margin – if the pharmacists sign a supply agreement with PMI directly and agree to sell the products at or under specified prices.
It’s up to pharmacies and patients to decide
Marketing materials show it as an introductory offer to pharmacies, and Veev brochures advertise to health professionals, including doctors, that these products are an effective smoking cessation tool. The only mention of PMI is in small print at the bottom of the brochure, according to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).
The RACGP said it did not get involved in product specifics – only that it gave guidelines on dosages – but that it believed scepticism generated by decades of Big Tobacco tactics would help pharmacies and consumers make decisions on cessation products tied to such companies.
“[The RACGP] does not endorse specific products for any types of medicine. We produce evidence-based guidelines and will be looking at the most suitable doses of nicotine for smoking cessation, as well as how to reduce nicotine concentrations to help patients beat addiction and cease vaping,” said RACGP president Nicole Higgins.
“The company [PMI)] appears to be financially incentivising pharmacies to stock them to give them the appearance of health products, and both GPs and patients can see through that. It’s telling that the marketing material Philip Morris produced for these products only mentions their name in the small print,” she told ECigIntelligence.
A spokesperson for the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) told ECigIntelligence that it did not have any specific issues with PMI’s tactic as it was a commercial dealing and several companies were producing vaping products for supply to the pharmacy market.
“As with any prescription, the prescriber may choose to specify a particular brand of nicotine product, if it is considered clinically necessary, or leave this decision up to the pharmacist and the patient to decide, based on stock availability, price and preference,” the spokesperson said.
“Hence, different formulations, presentation of the device and other aspects of the product may influence the need for products from multiple suppliers to be in the market to meet the clinical needs of patients.”
Products should meet certain standards
But critics did urge for more to be done in creating a device that would meet ARTG standards as a cessation device.
“We do believe the government should make progress toward an Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods-registered product. This would give clinicians greater confidence in prescribing nicotine vaping products to assist smokers to quit,” added Higgins.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) shares the same concerns. Their spokesperson said: “Vaping products which claim to be tools for smoking cessation should have their products undergo testing and scrutiny by the TGA to be registered as therapeutic products.
“There are currently no nicotine vaping products registered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, and no company should be advertising unregulated products to Australian healthcare professionals.
“PSA believes in quality, patient safety, and evidence-based practice. There is no place for big tobacco in healthcare. PSA urges pharmacists to be sceptical of any commercial offer from big tobacco.”
PMI did not respond to requests for comment on the matter, and the current status and future plan for the programme are unclear.
– Tracey Cheung ECigIntelligence contributing writer