Australia’s prescription-only model for nicotine vaping has failed, according to Colin Mendelsohn, founding chairman of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association. Writing in Filter, he urges the country to adopt a more realistic regulatory model for nicotine products.
In October 2021, the Australian government introduced a policy that requires nicotine vapers get a doctor’s prescription and purchase supplies exclusively from pharmacies or international online vendors.
The regulations were intended to prevent youth vaping and to allow access for adults as a smoking-cessation aid. One year on, the policy has achieved neither of those goals, according to a report prepared by Mendelsohn.
Instead, the rules have created a thriving illicit market for unregulated vaping products that do not comply with Australian standards. Meanwhile, vaping by adolescents has reportedly increased in Australia. With no age controls in an unregulated market, vaping products are easily accessible by teens from stores and through social media.
While the prescription model has made it harder for adults legally access nicotine vapes, combustible cigarettes remain widely available.
According to two recent surveys, between 88 to 97 percent of vapers do not have a prescription and only 2 percent of purchases are made from a pharmacy. Exposed to frequent negative messaging by Australia’s medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, general practitioners have been reluctant to prescribe nicotine.
The only way forward, according to Mendelsohn, is to replace the prescription-only model with a legal and regulated retail market. “Nicotine liquid should be an adult consumer product, sold from licensed retail outlets such as vape shops, convenience stores, tobacconists and general stores as it is in other countries,” he writes. “There should be strict age verification and penalties up to loss of license for underage sales.”