In sharp contrast to its neighbour New Zealand, where there has long been a balanced view on the regulation of vaping, Australia has always taken a hard line. And that line grew noticeably harder still this week, with the announcement by health minister Greg Hunt that all imports of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes are to be banned unless in the personal possession of passengers who are also carrying with them a doctor’s prescription for their use. Or imported with specific permission from the Department of Health – and then only by special courier service, not the public mail.
Since nicotine-containing vapour products can only be sold in Australia if approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) – which has never given such approval – the import ban means nicotine vapes face an effective total prohibition. Next Wednesday, when the ban comes into force, will effectively mark the end of vaping in Australia.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, which represents most of the country’s family doctors, is pleased about that. So is the Australian Cancer Council, whose CEO Sanchia Aranda said the crackdown would “help protect young Australians from the widespread importation of liquid nicotine.”
But not everyone is equally chuffed.
New Zealand vape chain Shosha reported an immediate 130% surge in sales after Hunt’s announcement as Aussie customers rushed to stock up while they still could. And there has been dissension in parliament even among members of Australia’s governing Coalition.
National Party chief whip George Christensen took to Facebook to voice his protest. “This was all done without any consultation with the public or many government MPs including myself,” he complained. “I completely oppose the move, which could result in people returning to cigarettes or purchasing potentially dangerous alternatives on the black market.”
Senator Matt Canavan, of the same party, told reporters it was “overkill” to impose fines “for importing what is in most countries a legal product”.
And Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman said: “It is inexplicable to me why the government would act during a pandemic – when all evidence is that smoking increases the health risk for those who catch coronavirus – in a way that could result in more people going back to smoking.”
While Australia also has strong anti-tobacco policies, combustibles remain on sale. ECigIntelligence estimated last year that the country – which already had one of the world’s toughest regulatory regimes for e-cigarettes – had 170,000 vapers, just 1% of the adult population.
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