24 March 2023

Australia needs vaping reforms now: RACGP

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) recommendations to crack down on nicotine vaping products.

The TGA recommendations, including stronger border controls, pharmaceutical-like packaging with health warnings and stricter regulation of products, reflect most of the College’s recommendations to tighten nicotine vape access. The TGA did not however follow the RACGP’s recommendation for progress toward an Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) registered nicotine vaping product.

An ATRG registered product would give GPs greater confidence about efficacy, quality and safety and bring nicotine vaping products into line with most medicines prescribed by doctors.

RACGP President Nicole Higgins welcomed the recommendations and urged the Government to go even further.

“Big Tobacco saw the writing on the wall, and they have adapted to profit from a new generation of nicotine users,” she said.

“These are many of the same tobacco companies that targeted young people for decades, and their tactics have not changed. They obfuscate, they fund research that could provide a smokescreen for a few more years, they draw in as many people as possible to give them a captive market. They attempt to mobilise users in the name of freedom-of-choice, while knowing that in pushing an addictive product, they’re robbing those same people of freedom.

“It’s very cynical, and with a disturbing level of vaping among children already, we need action now.

“These TGA recommendations are a step in the right direction, but we urge the Government go even further by establishing an ARTG-registered nicotine vaping product that gives clinicians greater confidence in prescribing nicotine vaping products to assist smokers to quit. While pre-market assessment of nicotine vaping products is progress, the variability of such products limit the confidence GPs can have in their smoking cessation efficacy.”

While nicotine vaping products are only legal to obtain in Australia with a prescription, many users are obtaining them illegally. Many also have colourful packaging with designs that appear to be designed to appeal to children, and most are flavoured to increase their appeal to users.

Dr Higgins said she fears young users will find it even more challenging to quit.

“Young people’s brains are still developing, and I’m concerned it will be even harder for them to quit nicotine than adult users,” he said.

“It would be nice to think child and adolescent use of vapes is an unintended side effect of cynical addiction-as-marketing strategies, but when the vapes we’ve seen have cartoon characters and the same tropes as children’s cereal on the packaging, these companies are either targeting children or not taking care to keep children safe.

“This has to stop. Vapes must be sold in plain, unappealing packaging, the contents must match the label and strong import controls must be put in place and enforced.

“There’s no benefit to vaping apart from a brief stop to your cravings, but that’s not news to anyone. If you want to quit, you can, and it’s a lot easier with support from family, friends, and your GP. Your GP is trained in strategies that can help you take back control and support you when it’s tough, without judgement.

“So, if you are ready to take control back from vaping or smoking, your GP is there to help.”

While the RACGP has consistently warned of growing use of nicotine vaping products, new research has shown alarming uptake among children. Recent research by the Australian National University (ANU) and the Cancer Council’s Generation Vape research project indicates Australia may be at risk of losing ground on smoking cessation efforts:

  • The ANU research found young nicotine vaping product users are three times more likely to start smoking than non-users
  • The ANU also observed that alongside addiction, young vape users risk poisoning, seizures, loss of consciousness from nicotine overdose, cough and throat irritation, and burns and other injuries from exploding batteries
  • In a survey of 14 to 17-year-old children, the Generation Vape research project found 32% reported having used a nicotine vaping product, 54% of whom had never smoked a cigarette
  • Only 53% of the teens used a nicotine vaping product they knew contained nicotine, yet TGA testing of 314 products has found 264 contained nicotine, suggesting young users may be unknowingly being exposed to addictive chemicals.

Media enquiries

Journalists and media outlets seeking comment and information from the RACGP can contact John Ronan, Ally Francis and Stuart Winthrope via: