Tougher rules on nicotine in Australia

"Hundreds of thousands of vejpers will start smoking again"

Australia is temporarily banning all private imports of nicotine-containing e-liquid. This follows a government decision at the end of last week. The country's 250,000 vejp users must now collect their prescription nicotine from a pharmacy.

Unlike ordinary cigarettes the sale of e-juice containing nicotine has long been banned in Australia. However, nicotine-free e-juice can be sold in vejp shops and individual users have been able to order nicotine for personal use online. The prerequisite has been a prescription from a licensed doctor.

But now the government is tightening the rules. A temporary law may only some pharmacies import nicotine for e-cigarettes. And they can only do so after a doctor has placed the order for a patient. The law will apply for one year. According to the Ministry of Health, the government will collect research on the potential health risks and benefits of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation. The aim is to build a permanent legislation, according to the Australian medical journal NewsGP.

E-cigs an authorised method according to doctors

The decision comes just a few months after Australian Medical Association has endorsed e-cigarettes as an option for smoking cessation. According to the society, doctors can favourably prescribe nicotine for smoking patients who are motivated to quit smoking. However, this is subject to the patient having tried other methods first.

"We've had this process for a long time now in Australia. It's a bit of a hassle, but relatively easy to get prescriptions and order nicotine from e.g. New Zealand. But it's disappearing now. It's the absolute worst thing that could happen," says vlogger Sam Parsons, better known as Vaping Bogan, in a post on YouTube.

A death sentence for smokers

According to the non-profit organisation Athra, Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association however, the new law is devastating for vejp users, but especially for smokers trying to get away from cigarettes.

"The tightening of the law will be a death sentence for hundreds of thousands of smokers and vejpers in Australia. It is immoral to deny and make it difficult for smokers to find a healthier and cheaper alternative to cigarettes. This is particularly true for those on low incomes, where smoking rates are very high." Athra writes on its website.

Risking heavy fines

According to statistics, today's smokers 3 million people in Australia. 21,000 die each year from injuries caused by cigarette smoking.

"You can go into any shop and buy a packet of cigarettes. But if you want to buy nicotine in a less harmful form, like an e-cigarette, you risk a $200,000 fine," the doctor said. Joe Kosterich, Chairman of the Athra and active in the debate on vejpning in Australia.

"There is no logic behind the government's actions here. Rather, it is a strong ideology that is spreading among public health experts: that e-cigarettes are just about tobacco companies wanting to keep people smoking," says Mr Pearson. Joe Kosterich.

Almost happened in Sweden

A similar approach is taken by many anti-smoking organisations around the world. And many are actively resisting the influence of tobacco companies on the regulation of new nicotine products, instead advocating for products from pharmaceutical companies, controlled by the Medicines Act. The issue has also been raised in Sweden, where as recently as 2015 the Swedish Medicines Agency wanted to regulate nicotine-containing e-juice as a medicine, in the same way as in Australia. This was not the case, however, after a judgement in the the Supreme Administrative Court.

Threatening traditional methods

But the discussion about the harmfulness of nicotine is not the problem, says the doctor. Joe Kosterich. If nicotine had been considered proven to be harmful, products such as nicotine patches and gum would not be on the market, he says.

"E-cigarettes were not invented by the pharmaceutical or tobacco industry. They were invented and developed by smokers who wanted to reduce the damage of their nicotine addiction. And it works." says Joe Kosterich.

However, it turned traditional tobacco regulation on its head. According to the old school, total abstinence from nicotine is the key to smoking cessation. "De-normalisation" is another important tool for those working on smoking cessation. Vaping doesn't work that way, says Joe Kosterich. It is not about de-normalising behaviour, but about making it less harmful.

"Independent science tells us that e-cigarettes reduce the harm caused by smoking. Smoking kills and it would be best if we all breathed clean air. But we don't live in a perfect world. And if we can have methadone programmes to reduce the harm of heroin abuse, why can't we have e-cigarettes to reduce the harm of smoking?" says Joe Kosterich to 3AW Mornings radio channel

Politicians protest against the ban

The Australian import ban starts on 1 July and also applies to tourists (those without a doctor's certificate). At the moment a campaign to reverse the decision.

"I am totally against this decision. It will force vejpers to start smoking again. Or it will open up a huge black market for nicotine," said the MEP. George Christensen in The Guardian.

He is joined by another MEP, liberal James Paterson:

"Vaping is a safer option than smoking. We should make it easier for smokers to quit smoking, not harder," he tells The Guardian.

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