Australia Vaping Laws: New Sales Rules Explained

Vape sales in pharmacists Australia

Labor’s Mark Butler announced a deal with the Greens that represented a watering down of the proposed new rules

The Albanese government has been pushing for world-first reforms that would have meant vapes would only be available at pharmacies with a prescription from a GP or nurse practitioner, a move backed by more than 50 public health organisations, peak doctor groups, and groups across social work and education.

But on Monday, the health minister, Mark Butler, announced a deal with the Greens that represented a significant watering down of the proposed new rules, throwing away the prescription model.

So what happened to the legislation and what does it mean for vapers?

How Will Vapes Be Sold Under the New Deal?

Vapes will still only be legally available from pharmacists for adults. But no prescription is required.

Other retailers – such as smoke shops or petrol stations – will still not be able to legally sell vapes.

To get vapes from a pharmacist from October, people will need to present ID that they are 18 or older, though data of vape purchases will not be recorded. Detail is lacking on how pharmacists will assess whether adults who ask for vapes should be provided with them.

But pharmacists will need to counsel those people they approve for vapes, and this cannot be delegated to a pharmacist assistant. What this counselling will involve is unclear.

When Do the Changes Come into Force?

If the amended reforms pass, it will still be illegal from 1 July for any retailers to sell any vape or related products, regardless of nicotine content.

But because the pharmacy-related changes have come at the 11th hour, pharmacists are not yet prepared to provide vapes outside the expected prescription model.

So, from 1 July, the prescription-only model will still be enforced, and then, from 1 October, pharmacists will need to move to the over-the-counter, counselling model.

Will Teenagers Be Able to Buy Vapes Legally?

No, unless they have a prescription from a doctor. Those aged under 18 will still be required to get a prescription for therapeutic vapes if their health practitioner believes it is clinically appropriate to help them to quit tobacco smoking.

Will There Be Any Criminal Penalties for Vaping?

The amended legislation will make it explicit that possession of personal use quantities of any form of vape will not be subject to criminal charges. A personal amount has been set at nine vapes, of any type, regardless of where they were sourced. There will be an eight-month amnesty period for personal possession.

Retailers and those found to be illegally importing vapes for sale will still face heavy fines of up to $2.2 million and up to seven years jail time as per the original legislation.

What Will the Products Look Like?

Vapes sold in pharmacies will not be allowed to be on display. They will come in plain, medical packaging, and they will be regulated to ensure maximum nicotine concentration levels are adhered to. They will only be available in mint, menthol, and tobacco flavours.

What Do We Still Need Detail On?

Despite claims that no data will be recorded from those asking pharmacists for vapes, any pharmacist-only medicine supplied over the counter without a prescription does usually require some form of data recording in case of adverse effects.

There are also questions around how the scheme will be evaluated for success if basic data is not recorded.

There are still major questions about how quickly and effectively the ban on vape sales at other retailers will be enforced, and how effective governments will be at stymying the sale of vapes on the black market.

And given pharmacists have said they do not support the amendments, we will need to see how willing they are to sell over-the-counter vapes come October.

What Reforms Are Already in Place?

From January, the import of any disposable vapes was banned. More than 2.5 million vapes have been seized since then.

From 1 March, further regulations took effect, including the banning of the importation of all vapes without a licence and permit, the closure of the personal importation scheme for vapes, and strengthened quality and safety standards for therapeutic vapes.

Matthew Ma