Australia: the Select Committee on Tobacco Harm Reduction issues its final report

The Select Committee on Tobacco Harm Reduction, established by the Senate on 6 October 2020, issued its final report on 18 December 2020, with a number of recommendations on how to address novel and emerging tobacco products.

The Committee was in charge of inquiring into and report on tobacco reduction strategies, with particular reference to the following:

(a) the treatment of nicotine vaping products (electronic cigarettes and smokeless tobacco) in developed countries similar to Australia (such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the European Union and United States), including but not limited to legislative and regulatory frameworks;
(b) the impact nicotine vaping products have had on smoking rates in these countries, and the aggregate population health impacts of these changes in nicotine consumption;
(c) the established evidence on the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation treatment;
(d) the established evidence on the uptake of e-cigarettes amongst non- smokers and the potential gateway effect onto traditional tobacco products;
(e) evidence of the impact of legalising nicotine vaping products on youth smoking and vaping rates and measures that Australia could adopt to minimise youth smoking and vaping;
(f) access to e-cigarette products under Australia’s current regulatory frameworks;
(g) tobacco industry involvement in the selling and marketing of e-cigarettes; and
(h) any other related matter.

The Committee advertised the inquiry on its webpage and invited submissions from a range of relevant stakeholders, including interest groups, government agencies, public health organisations, industry, universities and research bodies. Based on the submissions, the Committee prepared its final report, published on 18 December 2020, including the following main recommendations:

Recommendation 1
7.19 We recommend the Australian Government set a target of reducing smoking prevalence and tobacco availability to minimal levels, making Australia a smoke-free nation by 2027.
Recommendation 2
7.20 We recommend the Australian Government revise its current tobacco control measures to include harm reduction strategies with a strong focus on e-cigarettes to ensure that Australia is a smoke-free nation by 2027.
Recommendation 3
7.33 We recommend the Australian Government defer implementation of the following decisions and proposals until a whole-of-government approach is agreed by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments in relation to the regulation of e-cigarettes:
• the final decision of the delegate of the Secretary of the Department of Health to amend the current Poisons Standard in relation to nicotine; and
• the proposal by the Australian Government to prohibit the importation of e-cigarettes containing vaporiser nicotine (nicotine in solution or in salt or base form) and nicotine-containing refills unless on prescription from a doctor.
Recommendation 4
7.34 We recommend the Australian Government request the Therapeutic Goods Administration review the scheduling of nicotine with a view to exempting concentrations of nicotine below 50mg/mL from the Poisons Standard.
Recommendation 5
7.35 We recommend the Australian Government legalise the sale, possession and use of nicotine e-cigarette products as a consumer product up to a maximum nicotine concentration of 50mg/mL.
Recommendation 6
7.36 We recommend the Australian Government consult with state and territory governments with a view to establishing a nationally consistent regulatory framework for the sale, possession and use of nicotine e-cigarette products which:
• prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to persons under the age of 18;
• prohibits the sale of novelty e-cigarettes that may specifically appeal to minors;
• restricts the maximum volume of nicotine-containing e-liquid for sale in one refill container to 250ml;  prohibits advertising and marketing which makes therapeutic claims for products that have not been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration;
• prohibits advertising and marketing which targets young people and non-smokers;
• establishes product quality and safety standards;
• establishes requirements for packaging and product information (including child-safe packaging and health warnings);
• restricts where e-cigarette products can be purchased;
• prohibits general retailers from promoting the sale of e-cigarette products;
• prohibits general retailers from selling e-cigarette devices (but not pre-mixed e-liquids); and
• establishes ‘specialist vape retailers’ as a special class of retailer which are exempt from the restrictions that apply to general retailers.
Recommendation 7
7.37 We recommend the Australian Government consider options for the taxation of nicotine e-cigarette products, including the creation of a nicotine excise tax. At the same time, any taxation should ensure e-cigarettes remain an affordable alternative to combustible cigarettes.
Recommendation 8
7.40 We recommend the Australian Government continue to fund independent research into e-cigarette use and related products, particularly in relation to the:
• impact of Australia’s tobacco control measures on smoking rates and patterns and use of e-cigarettes by adults and young people;
• health impacts of long term e-cigarette use;
• effectiveness of e-cigarettes as an aid to help people quit smoking combustible cigarettes;
• short and long term health effects of ingredients commonly used in e-liquids, including but not limited to: vaporiser nicotine, propylene glycol and vegetal glycerine; and
• safety of e-liquid flavours for inhalation.
Recommendation 9
7.41 We recommend the Australian Government report annually on the state of its research into e-cigarette use and related products.
Recommendation 10
7.42 We recommend the Australian Government establish an online hub for making the findings of its research into e-cigarette use and related products readily available to the public and health professionals.

The full report and additional information on this inquiry are available through this link.

For more information, please, contact: Mr David Laffan (e-mail: david.laffan@health.gov.au).

For the latest information on tobacco control in Australia, please, see this Party webpage.

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