Should the UK Make Vaping Prescription Only Like Australia?  

Australia and UK Crossroads Sign

The debate rages between the worldwide sales of cigarettes containing tobacco vs e-cigarettes as a nicotine replacement. While the UK supports vaping with the world’s first ‘swap to stop’ scheme, countries such as Australia are taking a different approach.   

With the plan to make e-cigarettes prescription-only, what does this mean for the vaping industry, not just down under but worldwide? Will other countries follow suit? Did the UK not get the memo about the risks of vaping to their population of roughly 60 million?  

Australia Tackling Youth Vaping With Biggest Reform in Decades;

In one of the biggest news stories regarding the jostle between smoking and vaping in some time, Australia has made an interesting announcement. Instead of following the same pro-vaping message emitting out of the UK, that it’s a better alternative to smoking, Australia is banning the importation of vaping products which are not prescription. And that even includes those without nicotine.

The thinking process behind this is to curb the teenage issue of inhaling vaping products underage. In addition, rules to minimise attractive packaging and colours for e-cigarettes, as well as flavours and ingredients will hopefully reduce the chances of children and their fascination with vaping. Another way they plan to do this, which is a significant step, is to ban all single-use disposables.  

How Do These Rules Differ From the UK?

Currently, the UK is fighting a different battle. While there is still negative press about vaping in the media, and certainly regarding youth vaping which is understandable, generally medical organisations and the UK government back e-cigarettes as a better alternative. While Australian Health Minister Mark Butler states the tobacco industry is trying to “create a new generation of nicotine addicts through vaping”, it’s quite a claim to make considering there is no tobacco in nicotine e-liquids for vaping.   

Organisations like the NHS recognise the risks of vaping and they do not advise non-smokers to try them, but suggest it is better to vape and quit smoking for your overall health. Studies suggest it contains much less damaging chemicals to the body than smoking.  

Smoking vs Vaping Statistics

There is indeed an issue with vaping among youth. Even in the UK, there is evidence to suggest more than 10% of young people between the ages of 11-15 years old have tried vaping, which is a serious concern. How are they getting hold of them to use when purchases can not be made legal until reaching the adult age of 18? So in this respect, it is good that Australia is tackling this problem.   

However, in the same process of making vaping products prescription only, where are they turning rebellious children? In essence, they may be turning many back towards smoking, which is interestingly not facing the same strict measures. As far as we know, you can still buy cigarettes in Australia without a prescription. In fact, sales in US dollars amount to 11 billion in 2023.    

There are still just under 6 million adult smokers and around 200,000 underage smokers each year in the UK. While there is limited evidence of the long-term risks of vaping, so far there have been no deaths caused directly by e-cigarettes. In contrast, for decades medical research has pinpointed how tobacco in cigarettes kills roughly seven million each year and that is expected to reach 10 million by 2030. So to take such strong measures in Australia towards vaping and not do the same with cigarettes seems ludicrous. Granted tobacco tax is one of the highest worldwide to try to reduce cigarette sales, but removing disposables completely may turn the youth of Australia back towards cigarettes.   

Will the UK Follow Australia?

At the moment it looks unlikely. The swap-to-stop scheme is evidence of that, as they introduced a measure in the complete opposite direction, offering free vapes to the UK public as part of a programme to reduce smoking numbers by 2030. Because they’re seeing the impact smoking is having on the British public, behavioural support will also be offered to help remove the addictive habit. Below are a few medical resources that back up the overall message from the UK that vaping is a better alternative: