Australian Health Minister Mark Butler has stated that the government will ban the importation of non-prescription electronic cigarette products. The government will also establish minimum quality standards, including limits on electronic cigarette flavors, (outer packaging) colors, and other ingredients; adopt pharmaceutical-like packaging, and reduce nicotine concentration and capacity. Disposable Vapes will be explicitly banned.
The new legislation is being touted as the most significant tobacco and e-cigarette control measure in the country in a decade, with the government stating that non-prescription electronic cigarette products will now be banned entirely.
For e-cigarettes still legally purchased with a doctor’s prescription, minimum quality standards for e-cigarettes will be introduced, including restrictions on flavors and colors, pharmaceutical-like packaging, and limited nicotine concentration and volume, with permitted nicotine concentrations and volumes to be reduced.
Health Minister Mark Butler stated on Monday night’s ABC Q&A program that the tobacco industry is attempting to create a new generation of nicotine addicts through e-cigarettes, and he is determined to eradicate this public health threat.
Earlier, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) led an investigation into e-cigarette reform, with the majority of opinions submitted by health professional organizations, public health associations, individual health professionals, and university researchers supporting stronger border controls.
Many public health experts and organizations have urged the investigation to also include non-nicotine e-cigarette products in border control to prevent mislabeling and the use of import loopholes. Previously, manufacturers incorrectly labeled products containing nicotine as nicotine-free to circumvent import restrictions, making it easy for children to purchase e-cigarettes and unknowingly inhale nicotine and become addicted.
According to a recent study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, one in six teenagers aged 14 to 17 have tried e-cigarettes, while one in four teenagers aged 18 to 24 have tried e-cigarettes, and Butler previously stated that there are also 2 million e-cigarette users in Australia.
The government will also work with states and territories to end the sale of e-cigarettes in convenience stores and other retailers.
For smokers trying to quit, prescription nicotine e-cigarette products will become easier to obtain, with stricter standards being developed around e-cigarette products that can be purchased in pharmacies, so people can be assured of the product’s content.
Australian Health Minister Mark Butler will further outline the reforms in a speech to the National Press Club on Tuesday, where he is expected to say that e-cigarettes have become the biggest loophole in Australia’s history and announce funding for tobacco and e-cigarette reform in next Tuesday’s federal budget, the largest funding since the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products.
“Electronic cigarettes are being sold as a therapeutic product to governments and communities around the world to help long-term smokers quit,” Butler said in a excerpt of his speech.
“It was not sold as an entertainment product – especially not for our children. But that’s what it has become: Australia’s biggest loophole in history.
The funding includes $63 million for an evidence-based public health campaign to prevent people from starting smoking and vaping and encourage more people to quit.
Public health experts have long called for a reinstatement of anti-smoking ads. $30 million will be invested in a support plan to help Australians quit smoking and there will be increased education and training for health professionals on smoking and nicotine cessation.
An additional $140 million will be allocated to address smoking issues among Indigenous populations, with the plan to be expanded and extended to reduce the use of e-cigarettes among Aboriginal people.
“It’s a product that’s aimed at our kids and sold alongside lollies and chocolate bars,” Butler said.
“E-cigarettes have become the number one behavioural issue in high schools. It’s becoming increasingly common in primary schools. In the past 12 months, the Victorian Poisons Information Centre has received 50 calls involving children aged four and under becoming ill from ingesting or using e-cigarettes.”
“Just like they did with smoking, big tobacco companies have adopted another addictive product, wrapped it in shiny packaging and added flavours to cultivate a new generation of nicotine addicts.”
Butler said people who use e-cigarettes are three times more likely to take up smoking, which explains why under 25s are the only group in the community where smoking rates are currently increasing.
“This has to stop,” he said.
Australian Public Health Association chief executive Terry Slevin described e-cigarettes as a public health disaster. He said the reforms would return Australia to a world leader in tobacco and e-cigarette control.
He said the ubiquity and aggressive marketing of e-cigarette products, especially towards children, was a global scourge.
Convenience store lobby groups, some harm reduction experts and the public have been pushing for e-cigarettes to be regulated like cigarettes, which would generate $300 million in taxes for the government – a proposal rejected by Butler and the health sector.
“There needs to be a pathway for legitimate attempts to use e-cigarettes to quit smoking, and that pathway is and should be in place. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of cultivating a new generation of nicotine addicts among young people,” he said.
Butler was praised for responding to evidence and bravely taking on a powerful and wealthy industry.
Australian Council on Smoking and Health joint CEO Laura Hunter said it was heartening to see the government take decisive action against a harmful industry.
She said, “We also acknowledge that the commitment to stop selling electronic cigarettes in retail stores that have sprung up like mushrooms in every city and suburb has been very helpful in normalizing e-cigarette culture.
Although we have not yet reviewed the details of these announcements, the focus is on taking strong action to support the medical prescription model, further education on smoking and e-cigarettes, and increasing support for quitting smoking, all of which are a breath of fresh air in the crisis situation of the looming cloud. Operators are selling wrong information at the cost of our health.”