NRT debate lights up

cigarette lighter

Calls for Pharmacy-Only e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine as Senate debates regulation and criticises ‘rent-seekers’ who want open retail sales 

There were mixed views over the future regulation and supply of NRT products during debate in the Senate this week.

While most supported the current regime of prescription-only supply e-cigarettes, One Nation called for the products to become Pharmacy-only medications, while coalition senators argued for pharmacy-only liquid nicotine.

During a session of often-heated debate, Senators voted to support a cross-party motion on the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes.

The motion, put forward by Senator Stirling Griff (Nick Xenophon Team/Centre Alliance, SA) and co-sponsored by members of the Greens and ALP, called that the Senate note “that the tobacco industry has a vested interest in promoting e-cigarettes” and note previous big tobacco funding of lobbying by the Australian Retailers Association (ARA).

It also said the Senate “supports the findings of the Senate inquiry’s majority report that Australia has taken a sensible approach to vaping and ‘the absence of conclusive clinical evidence as to both the health effects of e-cigarettes and the efficacy of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool supports the conclusion that there is no case to weaken Australia’s precautionary approach to the regulation of liquid nicotine'”.

However, One Nation opposed the motion. It’s Senator Malcolm Roberts (Queensland) said “Vapes and e-cigarettes are as safe as the vaping solution’s contents. ‘E-cigs’ should be available in Australia using the established Therapeutic Goods Administration procedure for schedule 3 pharmacy-only medications”.

“This would allow local producers to submit their products to the TGA for testing and approval. Those approved devices and solutions would then be made using good manufacturing process right here in Australia,” he said. 

“The approval process is quick and cheap, as compared to potential sales revenue. Distribution should be limited to pharmacists.”

While the Coalition supported the cross-party motion, some of its senators did argue the case for some regulatory changes.

Senator Sarah Henderson (Lib, Vic) supported the motion, adding that the government was doing “exactly” what they called for on the regulation of e-cigarettes. 

She did, however, call for the government to “immediately review” the affordability of nicotine replacement products and move to list more of these products on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, in line with medical evidence, saying “if people want to stop smoking we want to give them every support we possibly can”.

“Upon application, and subject to the usual public health assessment processes, the TGA should consider reviewing the classification of liquid nicotine to enable it to be sold in pharmacies without a prescription,” Senator Henderson said.

“That’s a recommendation I put forward subject to the TGA’s assessment. Obviously, in adopting the medical model, if the TGA believes that this is appropriate, it is also open to the TGA to recommend the slightly broader accessibility of e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine through pharmacies”.

Senator Rachel Siewert (WA), the Australian Greens Senate Whip, was one of the motion co-sponsors, and was critical of any move away from current regulations, especially of previous calls from retail and industry groups for open sales of these products.

She said “it is very clear that big tobacco have an agenda here; otherwise they would not be involved. Anybody who thinks they have the health of the community at heart has rocks in their head”. 

“At the various hearings during the Select Committee on Tobacco Harm Reduction, we heard from a variety of commercial enterprises, including those running petrol stations and convenience stores in petrol stations,” she said.

“At the inquiry we heard people saying that doctors don’t really understand and don’t provide advice on e-cigarettes, and neither do pharmacists—that pharmacists won’t be able to provide advice on vaping implements or the various flavours which specialist vaping shops can provide.

Then the rent-seekers came in and said: ‘We run convenience stores at petrol stations and we want to be able to sell vaping implements. Our staff will be specially trained to provide advice about how you could use your vaping implements and liquids to reduce smoking.’

What a pack of nonsense! I don’t know about you, but when I go to the petrol station I go there to buy petrol, by and large; occasionally, I pick up some milk. The people are all very nice, but I wouldn’t want them to provide me with health advice”.


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