Australia’s ban on nicotine importation lifted…for now
Posted on June 27, 2020
PUBLIC HEALTH is the big winner from Health Minister Greg Hunt’s decision to delay the ban on importing nicotine. However, the fight to legalise vaping is far from over.
The Minister announced on 19 June that it would be illegal to import nicotine for vaping from 1 July with an extraordinary penalty of $220,000. A legal pathway for importation with a doctor’s prescription was proposed, but was complex and time-consuming and unworkable.
Shocked and angry vapers were faced with a very real risk of a total vaping ban and most were terrified of returning to smoking or having to obtain supplies from the blackmarket.
The Health Minister had previously commissioned a scientific inquiry into vaping in 2019, at a cost of $750,000, because of widespread support for vaping in the coalition party room. Surprisingly, the regulations to ban nicotine imports were made before the report was available
There was also anger about the underhand way the regulations were introduced. The announcement was made without consultation. The public was informed after parliament rose for 6 weeks with only two week’s notice before the regulations became law, in the middle of a pandemic. There was no opportunity for parliamentary debate.
The vaping community mobilises
The threat to effectively ban vaping galvanized the vape community.
- Vapers contacted their MPs and the Health Minister en masse to raise their concerns
- A fighting fund was established to fund a campaign, raising $35,000
- Coalition MPs Senator Matt Canavan and George Christiansen MP set up a petition which collected over 72,000 signatures in favour of vaping in a couple of days
- A social media campaign swung into action with the hashtag #vapingsavedme
- Vape shops contacted their customers to oppose the regulations
- A video campaign of vapers telling their stories on social media
- Advocates flooded the media on radio, television and online outlets
- Opinion pieces were published eg here and here
Outspoken media advocates like Ben Fordham, Mark Levy and Neil Mitchell got behind the campaign. Former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce demanded that people be left to vape if they wish. A toxicologist from the University of Wollongong warned that the ban on nicotine was dangerous and would increase nicotine poisoning.
Former Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce MP, "let people vape"
Before long, there was a backlash from coalition MPs. A letter by 28 MPs condemning the restrictions was sent to the Prime Minister warning that "onerous regulatory requirements" will effectively ban people from buying vaping liquids and cause them to revert to smoking
They argued the rapid introduction of the import restriction is "too rushed" and "completely impractical".
Australia's 520,000 vapers are grateful to all the signatories:
Matt Canavan, George Christensen, Tim Wilson, Dave Sharma, James Paterson, Dr Anne Webster, Eric Abetz, Jason Falinski, Trent Zimmerman, James Paterson, Hollie Hughes, Alex Antic, Claire Chandler, Pat Conaghan, Perin Davey, Dr Andrew Laming, Susan McDonald, James McGrath, Sam McMahon, Amanda Stoker, Bridget McKenzie, Llew O'Brien, Ken O'Dowd, Gerard Rennick, Paul Scarr, Phillip Thomson and Damian Drum.
Vapers breathed a collective sigh of relief on 26 June when the Minister announced the regulations would be delayed.
In the meanwhile, it remains an offence to possess nicotine in Australia without a prescription. A list of doctors who are available to assess your suitability for vaping and can provide a prescription if it is appropriate is available here.
The battle is far from over
Minister Hunt plans to introduce a streamlined version of the regulations on 1 January 2021. Importation of nicotine e-liquid would still require a prescription, however details are not available.
Vapers want nicotine liquid to be legalized and regulated so it is readily available as a quitting aid for smokers but with access to youth minimized. Vaping nicotine, a far safer alternative to smoking, should not be more difficult to access than cigarettes.
Vapers cannot rest. Over the next 6 months, vaping advocates will need to build a case to stop the proposed regulations altogether. Hundreds of thousands of Australian lives depend on it.
Watch this great video by VIDA.news on the recent events, featuring Dr Joe Kosterich and Fiona Patten MLC
Posted by Colin Mendelsohn, firstname.lastname@example.org