Comment by Colin Mendelsohn: current vaping regulations a “resounding failure”


Colin Mendelsohn


THERE are daily media reports about Australia’s desperate battle with youth vaping and rampant black-market sales.

The current regulations on vaping have been a resounding failure.

Illegally imported disposable vaping products are flooding the market and youth vaping rates are skyrocketing.

Meanwhile, adult smokers are unable to legally access an effective substitute which could help them live longer and healthier lives.

Up to two in three continuing smokers will die from their smoking. Vaping nicotine is a way out.

Now, the federal government has admitted its mistakes and it working to change its approach to vaping regulation.

But if the Therapeutic Goods Administration proceeds with its proposal to tighten regulations even further, the situation will continue to deteriorate and public health may never recover.

Australia went against the grain on its vaping policy.

While the rest of the world listened to the science and made vaping products available as adult consumer products, the federal government created a unique prescription-only model, severely restricting legal access to vapes.

It is easier to buy deadly cigarettes than a far safer alternative.

In New Zealand, since vaping was legalised, smoking rates have plummeted to record lows, and a legitimate regulated market has reduced uptake by young people.

This was a win-win for public health, and New Zealand is now reaping the rewards. A similar story can be seen in the United Kingdom. But in Australia, the government’s hard-line policy has resulted in a shocking growth in the black-market, happily selling dodgy disposable vapes containing nicotine to children.

Adult smoking rates have stagnated, and smokers are hesitant to consider vaping products because of the widespread misinformation about them.

Harm reduction experts including myself rang the alarm in 2021 when the prescription-model was introduced.

We understood how dangerous a prohibitionist model would be and warned it would galvanise a black market and lead to significant uptake by young people.

We were right and Australia is now facing the consequences of this misguided policy.

Vaping is one of the most effective quitting aids for smokers.

It is not completely safe – nothing is – but it is far less harmful than deadly cigarette smoking.

Recommending these products to adult smokers who just can’t quit is a no-brainer, and leads to substantial health improvements.

They should be at least as readily available as cigarettes to incentivise adult smokers to switch.

Instead, Australian governments and peak health bodies are pursuing regulations which will further restrict legal access, under the guise that prohibitionist policies will stop youth access.

This is a policy objective at odds with basic logic and will inevitably make the present problems worse.

The experiment with prescription-only products has not worked.

More than 90 per cent of adult vapers do not possess a prescription for nicotine, meaning almost all vape sales currently occur on the black market.

Very few doctors are willing to prescribe nicotine, and most remain uninformed about vaping.

The policy is effectively a de facto prohibition.

To eliminate the black market, we need to regulate nicotine vaping devices as adult consumer products, with regulated devices sold at licensed retail outlets with strict age verification. And by drawing adult vapers onto the legitimate market, and with strict penalties for selling to children, the black market will no longer be profitable and will diminish, shutting off easy access by young people.

This will create a future for Australia where smoking rates decline substantially, and young people are finally adequately protected against the predatory black market.

We are witnessing a watershed moment in Australia’s battle to effectively regulate vaping.

It’s time for the government to drastically alter its approach, align itself with the rest of the western world, and responsibly regulate vaping.

The failure of the federal government to implement the correct approach will have dire and long-lasting consequences for the health of millions of Australian smokers.

Dr Colin Mendelsohn is the founding chairman of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association