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Australia’s Failed Experiment

Australia’s experiment with prescription-only vapes has failed, according to leading vape advocate Dr Colin Mendelsohn’s 12-month review

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The Australian government’s prescription-only model for nicotine vaping has been a resounding policy failure, according to a 12-month independent review. The TGA regulations were introduced on 1 October 2021 with the two aims of preventing young people from taking-up nicotine vaping products and allowing adult smokers to access them for smoking cessation.

Dr Colin Mendelsohn is a member of the Smoking Cessation Guideline Expert Advisory Group that develops the RACGP Australian national smoking cessation guidelines. He is the Founding Chairman of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association, a registered health promotion charity dedicated to raising awareness of low-risk nicotine products as a substitute for smoking for smokers who can’t quit.

Previously, Dr Mendelsohn was an Associate Professor in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales from 2016-2020, and a past Vice President of the Australian Association of Smoking Cessation Professionals, Australia’s peak body for experts in the field of smoking cessation.

Dr Mendelsohn says: “The review found that the policy has achieved neither of its goals and has only made things worse. It has created a thriving black market, led to skyrocketing youth vaping, and made it far harder for adult smokers to access legal vaping products.

“Among young people, vaping has increased dramatically. Illicit, disposable vaping products can be easily purchased from tobacconists, convenience stores and social media, and enforcement and prosecution rates have been negligible. Instead, teachers are bearing the burden of this policy, with some schools removing toilet doors and installing vape detectors to prevent students from vaping.

“Government-funded awareness campaigns have only spread dangerous misinformation about vaping products which will do nothing to deter young people.

“Meanwhile, less than 1 per cent of Australian GPs are willing to prescribe nicotine, and very few pharmacies dispense vaping products. It is no surprise that only 88-97% of current adult vapers do not hold a valid prescription for nicotine, which is a criminal offence.

“Australia is the only western country to regulate nicotine vaping products in this way. In countries such as the US, UK and New Zealand, nicotine vapes are sold as consumer products to help adult smokers quit, with strict age verification to restrict access by young people. These laws have been successful and have significantly driven down smoking rates.

“The 12-month review comes as a recent modelling study estimated that relaxing the current policy would save 104,000 Australian lives and over 2 million years of lost life by 2080.

“The TGA announced in September 2021 that their own review of the regulations would be made 6 months after implementation. This review has since been delayed with no advice on when it will commence.”

Key findings from the 12-month review of the prescription-only model include:

  1. A thriving black market has developed, selling illegal, unregulated, high-nicotine disposable vapes.
  2. Youth vaping has increased dramatically and has become a crisis for schools and parents across the country.
  3. Access to legitimate vaping products by adult smokers is more difficult and costly, forcing many vapers onto the black market or to import them illegally without a prescription.
  4. The model has been rejected by both smokers and vapers and has created a disastrous loss of confidence and trust in public health.
  5. Currently, nearly all vaping products are purchased on the black market or from overseas, meaning no tax is payable to the Australian government.

Recommendations based upon the policy’s failure:

  1. Exempt liquid nicotine from the Poisons Standard in concentrations of ≤6 per cent for vaping for tobacco harm reduction.
  2. Allow sales from licensed retail outlets with strict age verification.
  3. Enable oversight and supervision from the ACCC.

The full review is available here:

Dr Mendelsohn concludes: The Australian government’s prescription-only model for nicotine vaping has been a resounding and predictable public health policy failure. A dangerous black market has exploded across the country, and young people have taken up vaping at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, the adult smokers who could live longer and healthier lives by switching to vaping products are forced to either contend with the same black market or continue smoking the deadly cigarettes sold on every street corner.

“Australia desperately needs to catch up with the rest of the western world and make nicotine vaping products accessible to the adult smokers who need them, whilst implementing strong restrictions on youth access.

“Without urgent change, the black market will only grow, more smokers will die, and youth vaping rates will continue to rise.”


A 12-month review of Australia’s prescription-only regulations for nicotine vaping – a predictable policy failure –

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Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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