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Vaping Bans Set To Spark A Mental Health Crisis!

January 31, 2024

by Pippa Starr

"I seem to be on my own in terms of “professional” support."

In a recent shift, Australia has adopted a prohibitionist-like stance on vaping, a decision that reverberates profoundly through its community of vapers, particularly those living with mental health conditions.

This move starkly contrasts with the policies of other western nations like New Zealand, the UK, the US, the European Union, and Canada, where nicotine liquid is readily available as a consumer product.

From March 1, under new Australian regulations, accessing nicotine for vaping not only requires a doctor's prescription but also going to an Australian chemist.

The personal importation scheme where vapers can import their own nicotine vape products is set to be abolished on March 1 and will be outlined further by Health Minister Mark Butler in parliament next week.

These regulations and legislative changes stands in stark contrast to the relative ease of purchasing traditional tobacco cigarettes, which are clearly significantly more harmful.

The irony is hard to miss: the safer alternative is now harder to obtain!

Al Gore, a vaper from Melbourne highlighted this when he told me in an interview a couple of days ago when he said,

“I have been struggling for a while now and rely on my doctors to help and guide me through my mental health issues. My GP is fully aware of my situation, one would hope that he would be willing to assist me through this and be prepared to give me an prescription as he knows how important vaping is to me and how it helps me with my PTSD and anxiety. I asked 8 times before my “breakdown” and each time he said he would think about it. This last time (9) he outright refused knowing full well that I depend on it. There are 6 other doctors in my area and all refuse to prescribe.”

He's not alone either as Broony from Brisbane said,

“I'm just another that got a no from my "Addiction Specialist" that refused the script & refused to learn anything about the vape.

He told me, "If you want to smoke, smoke." He was not interested when I said,

"I never want to smoke again, that's why I vape!"

I asked Doctor Colin Mendelsohn from NSW who has over 30 years’ experience in helping smokers quit for good to respond, he said “It is no surprise that doctors are refusing to prescribe nicotine. They are getting constant negative messaging from health authorities, are mostly uninformed about vaping and have medico-legal concerns about writing prescriptions for an "unapproved" drug. Getting a nicotine prescription will continue to be a big challenge for most vapers.”

I also asked an experienced Doctor and expert in Clinical addiction at King’s College in London UK, Dr Garrett McGovern, what he thought of these situations. His message was shorter and to the point. “It is appalling!”.

Mark Butlers draconian policies on vaping impacts various groups, but none more so than individuals with mental health conditions. Vaping has been recognized as a harm reduction strategy, particularly for smokers with psychiatric disorders who often find quitting smoking a significant challenge. The therapeutic value of nicotine, delivered in a less harmful form than smoking, is well documented. Nicotine can offer some relief from psychiatric symptoms and can be a less harmful option for those who find quitting nicotine altogether unfeasible. In the UK the Government position is to allow the use of e-cigarettes and many provide them for free to patients.

They also state E-cigarettes should not routinely be treated in the same way as smoking, noting it is not appropriate to prohibit e-cigarette use in health services as part of smokefree policies.

The RANZCP (Royal Australian & New Zealand College Of Psychiatrists) state they support the use of nicotine vaping products as a harm minimisation measure, to support those smoking cigarettes or using other tobacco products to make changes or cease in their use of tobacco. But their message seems to be falling on deaf ears in the Health Ministers office, because the new Australian vaping laws have inadvertently marginalized this vulnerable demographic.

By necessitating a medical prescription for nicotine vaping products, the barrier to access is significantly raised for those who might benefit the most.

Individuals with mental health conditions often face numerous challenges, including societal stigma, financial instability, and limited access to healthcare. The added burden of obtaining a prescription for a tool that could potentially aid in reducing harm is a step back in public health and social equity.

Moreover, these strict regulations have spawned unintended consequences.

The creation of a black market for nicotine products is one such outcome.

Such markets are unregulated and may expose users to additional risks, including untested and potentially unsafe products. This situation places those with mental health conditions, already vulnerable, at an increased risk.

While the intention behind Australia's strict vaping laws might be to protect public health, its impact on individuals with mental health conditions raises significant concerns. A more nuanced and honest risk proportionate approach, recognizing the unique needs and challenges of this group, would better serve the goal of reducing harm while supporting those in need. The current policy measures and those being rolled out at the end of next month may inadvertently exacerbate the challenges faced by some of society's most vulnerable.

Al from Melbourne can't help but to feel left behind as he says,

"It's unclear where the directives are coming from, whether it's the RACGP or the AMA that seems you would just use NRT products like patches. They don't work for me, vaping works to keep me smoke free! Mental health is unfortunately not well-considered when it comes to tobacco harm reduction, and I seem to be on my own in terms of “professional” support. Fortunately, I have had amazing support from the vaping community and that has had more of an impact on the positive change in my mental health, although it is a fine line at the moment."

The underlying tone of the TGA who are overseeing these most recent changes to vaping laws is now on show for all to see. They did something that almost certainly appears to be an admission that they have left vulnerable vapers behind, by outlining on their most recent update to their "Reforms to the regulation of vapes" webpage, which now includes a Suicide Call Back Hotline as well as links to Lifeline, Beyond Blue etc.

Yet no number for Quitline?

It's like they know this draconian position on vapes will spark a mental health crisis!


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