Will pharmacies need a tobacco licence to sell e-cigarettes?

Much work remains to be done ahead of the 1 October start of Prescription-only e-cigarette sales, with tobacco licenses for pharmacies not ruled out

Many of the regulations and requirements about the impending move to prescription-only supply of e-cigarette products are still being determined, a Senate hearing was told recently.

Therapeutic Goods Administration director, Adjunct Professor John Skerritt, was grilled at length by members of the Senate Community Affairs Committee at an Estimates hearing held on 1 June.

Among the questions Dr Skerritt fielded were ones about state and territory tobacco licensing regimes.

Senator Eric Abetz (Lib, Tas) asked Dr Skerritt about whether pharmacists would need a tobacco licence when the products move to Prescription-Only from 1 October. 

“We have been working with their legal people, and our lawyers have been working with them too. We don’t believe they’ll require a tobacco licence; I think you’re talking about a retail tobacco licence. We
don’t believe that that will be required,” Dr Skerritt said.

Senator Abetz then asked “When you say ‘don’t believe’, can you take it to the level of saying ‘they won’t require’?”

“We’re still working with the states and territories on either inadvertent or other conflicts of laws.
I would not be categorical. It’s an issue we’re working through with the states and territories very carefully in the period to come,” Dr Skerritt responded.

“Well ahead of 1 October, we will have resolved this both between our lawyers and our legal partners and the states. We don’t think there’s a problem to resolve; we just want to double-check there is no problem.”

Senator Abetz also questioned what were the regulations if a pharmacy sells an e-cigarette device that does not contain nicotine.

“We’re regulating the nicotine part of the product. In general the regulations do not extend to the
actual devices themselves,” Dr Skerritt said.

“If it was a refillable device but could also be used for a non-nicotine-containing product, it is beyond the scope of our regulation. There are some sort of pod type devices, where the nicotine is built into the device, and they are in the scope of our regulation.

If you can use it to vape strawberry flavouring and it doesn’t have nicotine in it, it’s not regulated by the TGA”.

Senator Abetz asked if community pharmacies would “need to have a price board for their devices, similar to those that tobacconists have for cigarettes? Would they be required to have the devices behind a closed door?” 

Dr Skerritt said “We don’t believe they’ll be subject to those tobacco type laws”, to which the Senator responded “Once again, you’re saying ‘believe’. They want some certainty as of 1 October”.

“Yes, they do. That’s why we’re working closely with the pharmaceutical wholesalers, the
Pharmacy Guild and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. These will be treated the same way as unapproved prescription medicines,” Dr Skerritt stated.

Dr Skerritt said pharmacy advertising of e-cigarettes would be allowed: “We don’t want billboards and TV ads saying, you know, ‘buy strawberry flavoured from here’.

“We want people to know that, if they go to a particular pharmacy in their local suburb, they can get their prescription filled, because they are one of the pharmacy chains that support it”.

In response to questions from Senator Holly Hughes (Lib, NSW), about online pharmacies and compounders selling e-cigarettes with premixed nicotine liquids, Dr Skerritt said: “there will be three models whereby people will get nicotine on a doctor’s prescription.

They can import products directly themselves from overseas, and that’s what the 110,000 doctors can write a script for now, or, as an authorised prescriber—and, again, in discussion with RACGP, we are not promoting that pathway, and neither are they, and they’re the GPs, not us.  

The second pathway is from an online pharmacy in Australia, on receipt of a prescription. The third
approach is from a physical corner pharmacy,” he said.

“We want to make this a simple as possible, so we have been working with pharmacy groups so that as many suburban community pharmacists will stock nicotine products that can be dispensed on receipt of a prescription”.



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  1. Crappy Celica

    The TGA’s original plan was to implement this from 1st July 2020. And they still haven’t figured out how to get it up & running 12 months later?
    When most GP’s don’t want to write prescriptions & most Chemists don’t want to dispense it, it’s on track to be a complete mess. Especially during the middle of a pandemic, when there’s enough strain on our health system already.

  2. JonathanBagley

    I live in the UK and switched from smoking to vaping in 2012. If vaping wasn’t available, I would still be smoking. To me, Australian vaping policiy seems misguided if reduction in harm from tobacco is its objective. Nicotine itself is harmless. Sweden, where snus oral tobacco is very popular among men, has the lowest male smoking prevalence in the developed world, and is bottom or near bottom of EU league tables for all smoking related male cancer and has 5th highest male life expectancy in Europe.

  3. Tony Lee

    The bottom of the bucket if pharmacy becomes a nicotine retailer be it on a ‘prescription’ or not.
    While the profession now markets everything except pizzas (coming?), nicotine would be unconscionable.
    The TGA ‘decision’ to allow desperate doctors to profit again not acceptable.

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