Black market vaping targets Australian children
This past week saw some discussion – finally – of practical, workable solutions to control the black market in vaping products targeting Australian children.
It is somewhat unfortunate that this is taking place after the close of the government’s consultation period on future policy in the area, which is of concern to millions of parents across the country.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the agency that currently oversees the regulation of nicotine vapor products (NVPs), closed its doors to public submissions on January 16.
Those submissions will include the proposals from the Australian Convenience Stores Association, which have generated widespread and welcome discussion.
Contrary to so much of the commentary on vaping driven by the interests of the medical lobby – who have warned about the risks of vaping products, our position is focused on controlling the black market through the introduction of legal, regulated, controlled sales to adults only.
To be clear, we are aligned with advocates of wanting to control youth vapor. Young people should not use these products. Where we differ significantly from the medical lobby is in what will achieve that goal. The incessant calls to double down on existing failed policies are simply divorced from reality.
To explain why, it is worth summarizing some of the facts.
First, there are 1.2 million adult consumers using NVPs in Australia. It is a mainstream consumer product.
Second, around 90 percent of those adults do not buy NVPs through the now legal channel, which requires them to get a prescription from a GP. Federal Health Minister Mark Butler has repeatedly said the previous government “dropped the ball” on vaping policy – an admission that the policy is failing.
Third, the complexity of legal access to NVPs has driven illegal street demand. In response, unscrupulous operators have flooded the country with unregulated products that are the source of many of the reasonable objections of parents and medical professionals. Many of these NVPs have colorful packaging, youth-appealing flavors like bubble gum and fairy floss, and absolutely no control over nicotine content or ingredients.
After the failure of the current prohibition regime, there are many loud voices proposing even stricter measures.
As retailers, we don’t pretend to be health experts – but we do have a great deal of expertise in consumer behavior and effective, responsible delivery of controlled adult products.
The demand for the product will continue. The question is whether it will still be met by rogue traders selling unregulated products, or by responsible, tax-paying businesses selling regulated products.
The former will continue to sell to youth. The latter will not.
This is the choice that the TGA and ultimately the Minister of Health must now answer when they announce their preferred response.
Allowing regulated sale to adults who choose to use NVPs will bring clarity and ease of enforcement, allowing authorities to focus on their enforcement efforts.
In contrast, enforcing the tighter restrictions proposed elsewhere would require a mass mobilization of Border Force and policing resources. It is prohibitively expensive – and as we see with other illegal products freely available on the street – ultimately useless.
By following the model proposed by retailers, the public policy objective of strangling the black market supply to consumers and the youth will be achieved. This will allow the government to raise taxes, pursue effective enforcement and give consumers who choose to vape confidence in the products they use.
A policy decision that doubles down on the current system that everyone knows is failing will simply have us back here again wondering how we are preventing youth access.
Our proposed alternative follows the effective policies of other OECD countries where vaping does not create nearly as much anxiety as a policy issue. This is the reasonable, practical and workable path – and it will support everyone’s shared policy objective of cutting off the current easy access for Australia’s youth.
Theo Foukkare, CEO of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores