June 25, 2024

DAN COX, PRESENTER: If the new laws they’ve proposed clear Parliament, it would make Australia the first country in the world to ban the sale of vapes and e-cigarettes outside of pharmacies. There'd also be plain packaging and flavours limited to mint, menthol, or tobacco. You'd have to have a conversation with the pharmacist to get one.

JENNY MARCHANT, PRESENTER: Let's find out more about how it would work. Pat Conroy is a Federal Minister and the MP for Shortland. Good morning, Minister.


MARCHANT: Does this mean there'd be no vapes anywhere other than pharmacies, the end of the vape shop?

CONROY: Absolutely. So, there's two phases to the law. The first phase will be people will need to go and have a conversation with their GP and get a prescription, and then it will transition to going to a pharmacy and having a conversation with a pharmacist before being issued with the vape. This will close down vape stores or restrict stores from selling vapes, which is common in places like petrol stations. And importantly, it will return them to the original concept, which is about being a replacement substitute for people trying to give up smoking, rather than what they are now which is a way of getting kids and young adults addicted to nicotine as a pathway to smoking. I'm really appalled by what I see on the streets around vaping, and so I'm so delighted that we've managed to secure support in the Senate for our really important legislation.

COX: So from October 1, pharmacies can sell vapes to anyone over 18 with no medical prescription required. Do pharmacists get a choice, Minister?

CONROY: Well, I think that's been discussed right now about those things, about whether they are required to stock vaping products. But this is similar to how pharmacists store behind the counter morning after pills, strong allergy medications, and asthma puffins. These are health products and it's appropriate the pharmacists are the ones that have the conversations with people about whether this is suitable for them and that they're using it properly.

It's really important to reflect on the problem. One in six school age children are vaping. One in four older teens and younger adults are vaping. Smoking rates in young adults are increasing for the first time in decades, and nine out of ten vaping shots shops are located within walking distance of schools. I've got two kids, one who will be entering high school soon, and this is something that I'm really concerned about, and that's something that a lot of parents are really concerned about as well. So this is an important law that will lead the world and improve health outcomes for Australians.

MARCHANT: The idea of the prescription has changed. So from 1 July to October, everyone will need a prescription to access the vapes, and then from October onwards, it would only be children that need a prescription. This is part of the deal to secure support in the Senate. Does having it just behind the counter at the pharmacy really make those aims? Won't somebody just come in and ask for them and get them?

CONROY: Well, it's better than nothing. It will prevent children getting them, because people will have to show ID to get them. And it also complements the other parts of the reforms which is banning single use vapes, getting rid of those novelty flavours like bubblegum, getting rid of the packaging that makes it look like USB or fluoro highlighters, and putting it in plain packaging.

So it’s a combination of all those reforms, but we can't let the perfect be the enemy. As it stands now, that legislation wasn't getting support in the Senate. The Liberal Party look like joining the National Party and being in the pocket of big tobacco, and unfortunately they weren't on board. So we had to constructively engage with the Senate crossbench to find a way through.

MARCHANT: You say that it will stop children from getting their hands on vapes, and I don't know about you but when I was growing up, children weren't allowed to smoke cigarettes, but they did. They were able to get them. Won't that just happen with vapes?

CONROY: Well there's always a debate about black markets, but we should be making it as hard as possible for people to get these products who shouldn't be using these products, and that's a reality. I'm not pretending that there won't be attempts to form a black market. I grew up and there were some kids that smoked that obviously secured cigarettes. But what I can assure you is there's a lot fewer kids smoking than when there wasn't an age limit on smoking, that people had to actually go up and try and secure them behind the counter at supermarkets. I used to work at a supermarket and had that role.

So this is important legislation, and just because it won't deliver 100 per cent no vaping other than people using as a nicotine replacement therapy is no excuse for not doing the right thing and improving outcomes for our kids. Dentists are reporting that they're seeing the rise of black gum disease in 12 to 15 year olds, for example. That's appalling and we should be making every effort to restricting vaping to people who need it as a nicotine replacement therapy. And that's what this legislation does. And it's really important that people like the Liberal Party get on board as well, so that this is bipartisan. I would have thought stopping vaping shops where nine out of ten are close to schools would be a good thing, but apparently for the Liberal Party it's fine for this to continue.

MARCHANT: Minister, we have seen other legislation introduced to restrict the vapes that can be brought into Australia. But for those who might be at home this morning thinking ‘aren't there nicotine-free vapes? They're just pretty smelling air.’ What is the problem with those nicotine-free vapes? Why are you looking at making all vapes only available through pharmacies?

CONROY: Well the truth is that the TGA - sorry, work by the Border Force and the TGA, has found that 90 per cent of the vapes that were tested contained nicotine, including ones that were labelled as non-nicotine vapes. So that's a really, really important point. People don't make vapes without nicotine. This is a product invented by big tobacco notionally to help people reduce smoking, but why are big tobacco spreading? It is to get people addicted to nicotine so they can keep selling nicotine related products. Unfortunately as I said, the vast majority of vapes that are labelled non-nicotine contain nicotine. And that's something that's really important and that's why we're approaching the legislation in this way. Non-nicotine vapes are a fantasy.

COX: Minister, thank you for talking us through it this morning.

CONROY: Thanks, Dan and Jenny. Have a good day. Bye.