Mr Hunt said Australia’s medical experts, including the Chief Health Officer, had “warned of the health dangers of e-cigarettes” and there was “strong evidence around the world of non-smokers being introduced to nicotine through vaping”.
Restricting e-cigarettes to those who imported them with a doctor’s prescription – a process hampered by the reluctance of many GPs to prescribe liquid nicotine, and a requirement to seek a special exemption for each patient – aimed to prevent the introduction of non-smokers to nicotine via vaping, Mr Hunt said.
However, he said the government would delay the changes “in order to assist … people who have been using these e-cigarettes with nicotine as a means to ending their cigarette smoking” and establish “a streamlined process for patients obtaining prescriptions through their GP”.
“This will give patients time to talk with the GP, discuss the best way to give up smoking, such as using other products including patches or sprays, and if still required, will be able to gain a prescription,” Mr Hunt said.
“People should always be consulting their GP on these health matters and ensuring this is the right product for them.”
Legalise Vaping Policy Director Emilie Dye welcomed the announcement as “a big win for vapers across Australia.”
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners supports the use of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes for smoking cessation, but only if other methods such as patches and gums have been tried first.
The Victorian Poisons Centre reported a near doubling of nicotine poisons between 2018 (21 cases) and 2019 (41 cases), mostly through imported products. A Victorian toddler died from nicotine poisoning in July 2018.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told 2GB on Friday morning that he would keep an open mind on the issue, but that his government was committed to encouraging people “not to smoke”.
“Nicotine replacement therapies like sprays, patches, lozenges, chews, they’re all available and they don’t require a prescription,” the Prime Minister said.
“We obviously support and encourage people not to smoke and we’ve got many policies and other supports in place to support them.”
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra