A new government proposal to restrict the sale of vaping products to pharmacies – while cigarettes are still broadly available in stores – has caused an uproar among Australian retail groups.
The restrictions will potentially move forward following an interim decision by the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA), which was tasked by the federal government to consider the issue, to make vaping products only available to consumers presenting a doctor’s prescription.
According to the National Retail Association (NRA), the decision hands a monopoly on the sale of vaping products to chemists, while compromising the health of cigarette smokers attempting to turn to alternatives in an effort to kick their habit. At the same time, convenience-store operators whose businesses rely on the sale of tobacco products as a major component of their income would be denied the opportunity to trade in a healthier substitute.
“Retailers are opposed to this highly deficient approach which represents the worst of both worlds in terms of disrupting local retail market dynamics, and detracts from the public health opportunities at hand that a more inclusive retail model would deliver,” said NRA CEO Dominique Lamb in a letter addressed to all federal government MPs.
“It will disrupt market dynamics, detract from public health goals, and put the future sustainability of thousands of already struggling local small and family businesses at risk.”
Lamb suggested the government instead turn to Australia’s existing 20,000 cigarette retailers to take up the fight to help shift smokers towards a less harmful product.
In a similar statement, Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) CEO Jeff Rogut called the interim decision “dangerous to health and a missed opportunity for responsible retailers”.
“It makes no sense to make it harder for people to access products that are safer for them,” said Rogut. “There is a positive health outcome that is simply being ignored.
“Convenience stores are responsible sellers of restricted products like legal tobacco and are more than capable of retailing vaping products in line with proper regulations, such as age limits, quality control standards and tamper-proof packaging. Government has consistently refused to look at such regulations, allowing the black market for vaping products of unknown ingredients and from dubious sources to grow.”
According to Rogut, the AACS has been petitioning the government for years to enlist retailers to support consumers who are giving up smoking by providing easy access to safer alternatives. He says the calls have not yet elicited a response.
While cigarettes and tobacco will remain freely available in retail outlets across the country, the TGA’s draft ruling captures “nicotine when prepared for use in e-cigarettes, e-juice heat-not-burn tobacco products, chewing tobacco, snuff and other novel nicotine products”.