Should Nicotine for vaping be legalised in Australia?

  • 5 min read

In Australia, it is illegal to possess or use nicotine other than in tobacco or nicotine-replacement products, as nicotine is classified in thePoisons Standard as a Schedule 7 “dangerous poison”.

As the primary addictive component of tobacco smoke, nicotine is part of the problem. However, it may also be part of the solution. Using clean nicotine in e-cigarettes provides smokers with an alternative way of getting the nicotine to which they are addicted without the tobacco smoke that causes almost all of the harm from smoking.

As well as delivering nicotine, e-cigarettes replicate several important aspects of the “smoking experience”. This includes the hand-to-mouth movement and the sensory and social aspects of the habit that smokers so often miss when they try to quit.

Is vaping nicotine harmful?

The health effects of nicotine are relatively minor. It does not cause cancer or respiratory disease. It has only relatively minor effects on the heart, such as short-lived rises in heart rate and blood pressure, constriction of coronary arteries and an increase in the contracting of the heart muscle.

Nicotine has shown to be of harm to the developing brains of children from unborn babies to adolescence. It allows has found to delay wound healing and increase insulin resistance in teenagers.

The effect ofvaping on bystanders is also thought to be negligible. E-cigarettes releaselow levels of nicotine and minimal amounts of other chemicals into the ambient air. The expired vapourdissipates quickly with no significant health risks to bystanders.

Accidental poisoning in children typically causes mild adverse effects. Serious outcomes are rare but have been increasing in tandem with the popularity of vaping and the high strength nicsalt e-liquid on the rise.

Most child poisoning with nicotine can be prevented with common sense, childproof packaging and warning labels, just like other potentially toxic medicines and cleaning products found in the home.

Overseas experience has shown e-cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking for young people. Although adolescents are experimenting with e-cigarettes, regular use by non-smokers is rare. The great majority of adolescents use nicotine-free e-cigarettes.

In fact, the evidence suggests e-cigarettes are acting as an “exit gateway” and are displacing smoking. It is obviously better for young people not to use e-cigarettes, but vaping is preferable to smoking.

Why nicotine should be legalised.

Current Australian laws ban a less harmful form of nicotine intake - vaping, while allowing the widespread sale of the most dearly form of nicotine intake - cigarettes. In spite of the legal restrictions and difficulties of access, vaping in Australia is on the rise.

The roadblocks to access Nicotine include requiring a prescription from a GP or other registered medical practitioner. Due to a lack of awareness on this topic most will find themselves needing to ‘doctor shop’.

Nicotine can be imported from overseas for those in possession of a script. It does restrict quantity to 3 months supply at a time and a maximum 15 months per year. 

Using nicotine in replacement therapies, like patches and gum is allowed. Why not allow the Poison Standard Schedule of nicotine to change, allowing smokers to access liquid nicotine for harm reduction?

Regulation under the Australian Consumer Law would improve product safety and quality, restrict sales to minors and ensure child-resistant containers and appropriate advertising. It would also eliminate the black market and the risks associated with it.

Illegal nicotine

It is ILLEGAL to source liquid nicotine in Australia without a prescription. Purchase of illegal nicotine ‘under the counter’ is STRONGLY DISCOURAGED. There are no guarantees of product quality or safety or that the liquid is what it claims to be. It is also an offence under state laws.

Regulation of vaping.

An ideal regulatory approach should strike a balance between making high quality vaping products readily available to addicted adult smokers as a safer alternative while reducing access to young people.

Regulation of e-liquids should also ensure that high quality and safe products are available and includes:

  1. Exempt nicotine e-liquid in concentrations ≤ 5% for vaping from the Poisons Standard
  2. Regulate nicotine in concentrations ≤5% as a consumer product
  3. Minimise youth access by strict age verification, prohibited youth-friendly packaging, restricted advertising and public health messaging
  4. Introduce laws and guidelines specifying minimum standards for the manufacture and safety of vaping liquids
  5. Introduce mandatory standards for labelling, refill containers and health warnings
  6. Prohibit descriptive flavour names that specifically appeal to youth and unsafe flavouring chemicals
  7. Establish a notification scheme for pre-market registration
  8. Regulate and enforce the sale of nicotine e-liquids in vape shops, other retail outlets and online to under 18 year olds
  9. Permit vaping in specified public spaces and allow owners and managers of premises to set their own regulations
  10. Use public health messaging to raise awareness of the health risks relative to smoking tobacco
  11. Establish a system for reporting harmful effects and recall of unsafe products
    Similar guidelines are currently successfully employed in the United Kingdom and are proposed for New Zealand.

Proposed 2021 Australian Vape Law Changes.

New regulations to commence in 2021 will dramatically reduce access to nicotine vaping in Australia. Many vapers will go back to smoking or seek supplies from the black market.

Essentially, the proposed regulations require vapers to access nicotine liquid as a prescription medicine. However, there will be no product regulation and no manufacturing or safety standards which are required for all other prescription products.

The proposal makes it much harder to purchase vaping products than lethal cigarettes and will discourage smokers from switching to the much safer alternative.

Vapers don’t see themselves as sick and don’t want medical treatment. Doctors know very little about vaping and the Australian Medical Association opposes it. Few doctors will participate in the program. The Pharmacy Guild has stated that it will not support the sale of vaping products. The proposed process involves:

Licensed medical importers and pharmacy wholesalers source nicotine liquid from overseas

  • Doctor applies online for approval to write nicotine prescriptions for vaping under the Approved Prescriber scheme
  • Patient finds a doctor who will prescribe nicotine and gets a prescription if approved

Patient then either imports the nicotine e-liquid from overseas or purchases it from a local pharmacy. These steps are required for local purchase:

  • Find a pharmacy which dispenses nicotine liquid and present the prescription
  • Pharmacist orders the product from a wholesaler
  • Patient returns to the pharmacist to purchase the product

The Health Ministers plan to ban personal importation of nicotine by changes inCustoms Regulations has beendeferred for a second time in October 2020.

The future of this draconian plan is unknown.

Organisations such as ATHRA support vaping as a harm reduction method and oppose the current changes to vaping laws in Australia. You can stay updated by following their blog. 

If you believe the proposed changes will impact you, we encourage you to support ATHRA vocally and/or financially to advocate on behalf of all Australian Vapers.

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