September 30, 2020 6 min read

Will Prescription Only Nicotine Work?

The recommendation by the Ministry of Health to regulate nicotine e-liquid and vaping in Australia in a prescription model will never work. The reason for this is simple, nicotine e-liquid is a consumer product with a therapeutic effect. It is not a therapeutic product marketed to consumers. An amazingly simple comparison would be to compare vaping with beer. Beer has a therapeutic effect (well, not exactly therapeutic, but it has an effect that people like). Go to your local bottle shop and you’ll find many different varieties and flavors of beer to suit different tastes. You cannot just lump everything under one umbrella can call it a day, which this prescription model is now suggesting.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of available nicotine e-liquid flavors out there and in many different nicotine configurations and levels. It would be virtually impossible for doctors and pharmacists to familiarize themselves with all of the available combinations. Heck, even some vape shop owners who spend all of their time with vape products will even have problems familiarizing themselves with each item on their inventory, how much more with doctors and pharmacists who have more pressing health-related matters to worry about.

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The Prescription Model Limits Vaper Choices

 

If local pharmacies and dispensaries cannot even stock a full complement of medication for treatment of diseases, how much for the almost unlimited choices when it comes to nicotine e-liquid? Ask any vape business and they will tell you that vape flavor preference varies per town, city, region, or territory. And this isn’t even a permanent thing, flavor preferences change and flavors that are popular in one month, can be gone the next. You cannot expect a local pharmacy to stock the range of flavors needed to satisfy the needs of vapers in their area.

 

The selection of flavored nicotine e-liquid is one of the things that makes vaping such a success in drawing smokers away from tobacco. Forcing vapers to vape flavors that they do not like is the same as pushing them back to tobacco.

 

The Prescription Model Kills Local Vape Businesses

Any vaper will tell you that vaping is not something that can be gotten into over-the-counter. To educate a new vaper, it will take at least 30 minutes to orient one person on proper device operation, to explain the different settings, nicotine levels, and other safety considerations. Pharmacies and doctors offices cannot do this, they cannot, and will not do this. It simply takes too much time and only those who are truly invested in vaping can help educate smokers on how to properly switch to vaping.

Educating vapers is also not a one-time thing. Maintaining a vape mod, building coils, battery safety, and other vape related tasks takes time to learn. On average, it will take a newbie vaper at least three or four visits with a vape shop or with a person familiar with vaping to be fully versed on how to independently maintain their devices. Can you imagine a doctor or a pharmacist spending that much time with a single person? Teaching them how to build coils? Clean atomizers? Maintain batteries and all of the other things vape-related?


A Prescription Model will cost the Taxpayers Dearly

 

Instead of taxing vaping like a consumer good, turning it into a prescription product will cost the country millions of dollars instead of earning from it. This is on top of the medical expenses that will burden the system when hundreds of thousands of vapers switch back to smoking tobacco.

A Vape prescription is only good for a three-month supply. So that means that to get a whole year’s supply of nicotine e-liquid, a vaper will have to go to his or her GP four times a year. With half a million vapers in Australia by the last count, this will mean that there will be an additional 2 million GP visits just for vapers to get their prescriptions. This presents an undue burden to our already pressured health system.

Aside from the extra GP visits, we have to remember that prescription medication are GST-free. So instead of legalizing vaping, taxing it as a consumer good and pouring in millions of dollars into the Australian treasury, nicotine e-liquids will be tax-free and the only people making money will be the large pharmacies and chemists.  

What does the new prescription model look like?


The TGA or Therapeutic Goods Administration has put up an infographic on how the model would look like. They are oversimplifying the entire process to make it seem like they are being reasonable, but it truly isn’t.

The first step: Consultation with Doctor

Not all doctors in Australia are versed with vaping. You cannot just walk into a doctor’s office and ask about vaping, not because they don’t want to, but they’re simply not informed about it. Informing and training all doctors in Australia about vaping will be a gigantic task that the TGA has not considered. Unlike prescription medication where a writeup and some literature will work, vaping is much more complicated than that.

As of last count, there are less than a dozen doctors all over Australia that are knowledgeable and are willing to make prescriptions for nicotine e-liquid. ATHRA states that there are over half a million vapers all over Australia. From that number alone, if we divide it among the doctors who are willing and able to prescribe nicotine, you would get a ratio of 41,000 vapers per doctor. Each doctor would have to see a 112 vapers per day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year just for all of the CURRENT vapers to get a prescription. Assuming a doctor works 8 hours a day, every day, Monday through Sunday, he or she would have to see 15 people per hour, or spend less than 4 minutes per person, without taking breaks.

Now tell me, what sort of medical advice can a doctor give a person in 4 minutes? And we’re not even factoring in non-vapers who want to switch from tobacco to smoking! And not only that, a prescription is good for three months’ worth of nicotine e-liquid, after three months, a person would have to get back in line to get another prescription! If they’re so worried about the health of people, then why not make cigarettes prescription-only as well?

The Next Step: Ordering Online or getting from a local pharmacy

Now, this goes back into our previous argument about limiting vaper choices. Who can say that a local pharmacy will have the unit or flavor that’s preferred by the vaper? What if the nicotine level that the vaper needs isn’t available in the local pharmacy? What then? If people say, well just order online.

That’s true, ordering online works, but who orders three months’ worth of vape juice? That’s a big chunk of change right there, and what if you don’t like the flavors available online? It takes away from our ability to try and explore new flavors because no one in his or her right mind would buy three months’ worth of untested nicotine e-liquid flavors.

And who is to say that all international sources of nicotine e-liquids are reputable? Instead of going to a local business that test and try out all of their products for quality, vapers will be left with a coin toss with the quality of their vaping products.

The final hurdle: Getting the nicotine e-liquid across the Australian Border

Once it becomes a regulated product, it will add an extra burden to our already overworked customs officials, taking time away from things that they should be checking like illegal drugs, weapons, smuggled goods, and other things that are more important than a couple of bottles of nicotine e-liquid.

Get your voice heard

The TGA has opened public consultations for the proposed regulation with regard to prescription nicotine. Now this public consultation is a welcome step in the right direction. By submitting your comment, it will be considered along with the voices of those on the committee. To submit your comment, head on to the TGA’s consultation portal which you can access by clicking this link – Submit your comment here.

Don’t know what to write? Just tell them the truth. Get some ideas from the points we have laid out on this blog post. There is no right or wrong answer, the important thing is to let them know that you, as a vaper, will be directly affected by this form of regulation.

Here are the upcoming dates that you should remember as a vaper

  • November 6, 2020 – Deadline for submission of comments for the TGA public consultation
  • December 2020 – The decision from the TGA consultation will be released
  • January 1, 2021 – The new date for the proposed vape importation ban to kick into effect (any nicotine vape product coming into the country will be confiscated after this date)
  • Mid 2021 – The decision from the TGA consultation will be fully implemented

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