Media release

Federal vaping crackdown necessary

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler's crackdown on importing vapes is needed to stop a new generation becoming addicted to nicotine, AMA Queensland President Dr Maria Boulton has told ABC Brisbane. "Australia is a leader when it comes to smoking cessation, but it seems that with vaping, we're a little behind the eight ball and something had to be done."

Transcript: AMA Queensland President, Dr Maria Boulton, ABC Radio Brisbane, Mornings with Cathie Schnitzerling, Tuesday 28 November 2023

Subjects: Vape crackdown

CATHIE SCHNITZERLING: The Federal Government is cracking down on the importation of vapes. From next year it will be difficult to get your hands on a vape unless you have a prescription from a doctor. The Health Minister's plan aims to stop a growing black market that's seeing millions of vapes imported from China every year and ending up in the hands of our teenagers and young people. But how many doctors would be willing to write a prescription for a vape? Is this going to create a doctor shopping problem of its own? Dr Maria Boulton is the President of the Australian Medical Association of Queensland. Dr Boulton, is this the right approach?

DR MARIA BOULTON: Good morning, Cathie. There's really no option when you look at the number of children and teenagers that are vaping. What's happening now is that we're creating the next generation of vapers and smokers. The data is clear that people who vape are more likely to pick up cigarette smoking. Australia is a leader when it comes to smoking cessation, but it seems that with vaping, we're a little behind the eight ball and something had to be done.

When you look at data put out by the Cancer Council, 14 per cent of teenagers and 20 per cent of young adults have vaped and continue to vape, and we know that there's emerging evidence that vaping is dangerous for your lungs. We know that it causes burns to your lungs, chronic lung disease, seizures, headaches and we also know that the liquid that's inside the vapes is highly toxic. So, for example, if you have a toddler that gets their hands on a vape and ingests that liquid, it can be lethal. So something had to be done.

CATHIE SCHNITZERLING: That's quite horrifying. I've never thought about toddlers getting hold of the liquid and ingesting it.

DR MARIA BOULTON: Yes, it happens. And they did some studies recently where they showed that some vapes actually contain the same amount of nicotine as 50 cigarettes. So, if a toddler was to get their hands on it and ingested it; there's been quite a number of phone calls to the poison’s information line about this, and that’s why it's essential that regulation comes in. At the moment, it's quite easy for anyone to get their hands on vapes, and we're really not sure what's inside them. Even if they get sold as non-nicotine vapes, we really don't know what's in them, and a lot of the time they do contain nicotine and other dangerous products.

CATHIE SCHNITZERLING: Are vapes prescribed to ease people off cigarette addiction?

DR MARIA BOULTON: Vaping is one of the options, but it's not first line, it's not second line, and in fact, it's last resort when it comes to smoking cessation. So as GPs, it is bread and butter work to help people who want to quit smoking and who want to quit vaping, to quit. And there are many more evidence-based ways of helping people who are smoking to quit smoking, vaping is only a last resort. That's in the guidelines that we GPs employ when we're dealing with patients who are having issues, who want to quit smoking. And I know it's really hard, it's tremendously hard to quit smoking, but there are more evidence-based ways of helping patients off smoking than prescribing vapes.

CATHIE SCHNITZERLING: Are GPs reluctant to prescribe vapes if it is the last resort?

DR MARIA BOULTON: GPs are highly guided by guidelines and it is one of the last resort guidelines. So, if it comes to that, I am sure that many GPs will consider it. At the end of the day, you have to sit down with the patient and work out what's best for them. When you look at the guidelines, it is the last resort, so GPs are more likely to recommend those strategies that are more likely to help that patient quit smoking. You want to go for the most effective, most evidence based, safest strategy, and there are safer strategies out there than vaping. This is not new work for us, it's our bread and butter, it's something that we do every day. GPs are really well placed to help people who are wanting to either quit smoking or quit vaping.

CATHIE SCHNITZERLING: Dr Maria Boulton is the President of the Australian Medical Association of Queensland and we're talking about a new ban that is going to come into place in the new year on vapes. Dr Boulton, do you think that these new rules might lead to doctor shopping?

DR MARIA BOULTON: I don't think so. I think as part of the new rules, and I think the Health Minister Mark Butler is making an announcement sometime today or tomorrow, that he's going to open up the number of GPs that can actually prescribe vapes. So, it's going to open it right up. There's so many other ways out there to help people quit smoking, and unfortunately vaping has been sold as an alternative to smoking cessation which is not right. It's very clever marketing. But as I said, it's not the first line or the second line when it comes to that.

As with everything, it's really important that the government also follows through with making sure that people have access to their GP. It's also really important that access is to your own GP who knows you best, or to the practice that you normally attend. That's why we've been advocating so hard for the government to look at and review Medicare rebates so that people can continue having access to their GP and their GP practice when they need to. We know that the funding hasn't been there for people to do that, it's fallen way behind. When you look at your Medicare rebates compared to, for example, how much a pizza has gone up, they haven't kept up with the cost of providing the service. And for far too long GPs and GP practices have been subsidising that cost, but they just can't do it anymore because costs are so high at the moment.

CATHIE SCHNITZERLING: I have a text that's come in from Dave at Ipswich, and he says “doctors refuse to prescribe nicotine liquid now. As it is, many of us import our nicotine from overseas. When will the government ban smoking? That's right, they make money off that. Regulate the sale of vapes and stop making the rest of us pay for the actions of a few. Vaping helped me to quit smoking and my lung health has improved immeasurably according to my GP”.

Now that is something that I have heard before from people who are very heavy smokers. They then turned to vaping to reduce their nicotine intake. It works for some people.

DR MARIA BOULTON: And once again that's a conversation that he's having with his GP, and that's where we want to be. We want people to be able to have that conversation with their GP. But also, we also need to limit the number of people who become addicted to smoking and who are using vaping as a gateway to that. When you talk to teachers, and when you talk to parents who have kids at schools, we know how easy it is for those kids to get access to vapes, and it makes no sense. Vapes are sold in flavours that are quite attractive; bubble gum, tutti frutti, watermelon. They come in very cool little devices and we're starting to see them way too often on TV shows and movies. The same thing happened with smoking and it needs to be more tightly regulated, otherwise we're going to have an issue with future generations being addicted as well.

CATHIE SCHNITZERLING: Dr Boulton, clearly this is good news to you. Thanks for joining me this morning.


CATHIE SCHNITZERLING: Dr Maria Boulton is the President of the Australian Medical Association of Queensland, and she says something had to be done with vaping.

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