PUBLIC HEALTH is the big winner from Health Minister Greg Hunt’s decision to delay the ban on importing nicotine. However, the fight to legalise vaping is far from over.
The Minister announced on 19 June that it would be illegal to import nicotine for vaping from 1 July with an extraordinary penalty of $220,000. A legal pathway for importation with a doctor’s prescription was proposed, but was complex and time-consuming and unworkable.
The Health Minister had previously commissioned a scientific inquiry into vaping in 2019, at a cost of $750,000, because of widespread support for vaping in the coalition party room. Surprisingly, the regulations to ban nicotine imports were made before the report was available
There was also anger about the underhand way the regulations were introduced. The announcement was made without consultation. The public was informed after parliament rose for 6 weeks with only two week’s notice before the regulations became law, in the middle of a pandemic. There was no opportunity for parliamentary debate.
The threat to effectively ban vaping galvanized the vape community.
- Vapers contacted their MPs and the Health Minister en masse to raise their concerns
- A fighting fund was established to fund a campaign, raising $35,000
- Coalition MPs Senator Matt Canavan and George Christiansen MP set up a petition which collected over 72,000 signatures in favour of vaping in a couple of days
- A social media campaign swung into action with the hashtag #vapingsavedme
- Vape shops contacted their customers to oppose the regulations
- A video campaign of vapers telling their stories on social media
- Advocates flooded the media on radio, television and online outlets
- Opinion pieces were published eg here and here
Outspoken media advocates like Ben Fordham, Mark Levy and Neil Mitchell got behind the campaign. Former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce demanded that people be left to vape if they wish. A toxicologist from the University of Wollongong warned that the ban on nicotine was dangerous and would increase nicotine poisoning.
Colin Mendelsohn – Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association – June 27, 2020.