27 Jun Greg Hunt delays ban on liquid nicotine imports after backlash from Coalition MPs
Paul Karp – The Guardian – Saturday 27 June 2020
Greg Hunt has delayed the introduction of a ban on imports of liquid nicotine for vaping by six months, after his unilateral decision prompted widespread backlash on the Coalition backbench.
The health minister announced on Friday the ban will now apply from 1 January, with a “streamlined process” for patients to get a prescription from their GP.
The backdown came just two days after Coalition MPs began to openly campaign against the ban and one day after the government made a regulation for the ban to apply from 1 July.
Nationals George Christensen and Matt Canavan had campaigned against the ban on social media; while Liberals Trent Zimmerman, Tim Wilson and James Paterson told Guardian Australia on Wednesday they opposed the ban because it could push vape users back to smoking.
On Thursday the Sydney Morning Herald reported that 28 Coalition MPs and senators had signed a petition opposing the ban, which would apply fines of up to $200,000 for those who import liquid nicotine without a prescription.
In a statement, Hunt said that the sale of e-cigarettes containing vaporiser nicotine was banned in all states and territories because of health dangers acknowledged by Australia’s medical experts, including “strong evidence of non-smokers being introduced to nicotine through vaping for the first time”.
He said the ban responded to medical advice “by ensuring that nicotine based e-cigarettes can only be imported on the basis of a prescription from a doctor”.
“However, there is a second group of people who have been using these e-cigarettes with nicotine as a means to ending their cigarette smoking.
“In order to assist this group in continuing to end that addiction we will therefore provide further time for implementation of the change by establishing a streamlined process for patients obtaining prescriptions through their GP.”
Hunt said the 1 January 2021 start date for the ban would give patients “time to talk with the GP, discuss the best way to give up smoking, such as using other products including patches or sprays”. He said that “if still required”, people could get vape liquid with a prescription.
Paterson welcomed the backdown, telling Guardian Australia that “vapers will be relieved to hear they will not be cut off on 1 July from a product that helped them kick the habit”.
“Six months gives us the time to put in place a system that ensures anyone who needs access to these safer alternatives can get it.”
The ban was supported by the Royal Australia College of General Practitioners, which said on Wednesday that vaping should be a “last resort” for those trying to quit smoking.
Hunt noted the Victorian Poisons Centre “reported a near doubling of nicotine poisons between 2018 [21 cases] and 2019 [41 cases], primarily caused by imported products of dubious safety and quality”.
“A Victorian toddler died from nicotine poisoning in July 2018.”
Earlier on Friday, Scott Morrison told 2GB Radio that Hunt would “take into account various feedback that’s coming back” about the proposed ban.
Nevertheless, Morrison defended the decision by noting “individuals who get the vaporiser nicotine … can get that via permission from the Department of Health and their doctor and get it from a medical supplier”.
“Vaping products that don’t contain nicotine are not affected by these changes.”
Doctor Parivash Eftekhari, a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Newcastle, said: “There is data on both positive and negative effects of e-cigarettes on human health.
“Epidemiological studies show e-cigarettes have helped reduce the smoking rates and consider them effective in smoking cessation.
“Rationally, receiving only nicotine through these devices may be less harmful than smoking tobacco.”
However, studies also showed e-cigarettes use was associated with increased oxidative stress, which could lead to cancer, cardiopulmonary pathogenesis and neurodegenerative disorders.