Since October 2021 Australia has introduced some of the tightest rules around vaping in the world. These focus on vaping products only being available to people with a genuine desire to stop smoking, and not for recreational use. At the heart of the rules is the need for a prescription from a clinician to legally purchase nicotine vaping products. In this article, we will talk you through the details of the laws, what a prescription means and most importantly the steps required for obtaining a legal prescription.
Who won’t get a nicotine vaping prescription?
The reason doctors are able to prescribe nicotine vaping products is to help people to quit smoking. The risks of smoking tobacco products are well known to most people. 2 in 3 cigarette smokers will die from a smoking-related illness. Nicotine vaping products offer a tobacco-free solution that reduces the nicotine cravings present in people quitting smoking, and it has been shown by a large international review that they may be more effective in helping smokers quit than more traditional methods. It remains unclear whether some smokers are more likely to be successful using this method, however, this research seems to suggest that vaping is more likely to be effective for smokers who have tried conventional therapies first, like nicotine gum and patches, and been unsuccessful quitting.
The body that regulates GPs, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), recommends that doctors only consider prescribing nicotine vapes as a ‘second-line’ therapy. This means that GPs should only consider prescribing vapes if a smoker has previously tried to quit using other more established methods, such as nicotine gum or patches.
The logic behind a first or second-line therapy is partly due to the time that traditional nicotine replacement therapy (patches, gum) have been around, and the fact that they have been assessed and regulated as medications. Vaping in contrast has been around for a shorter time, and is not regulated as a medication. Because there are more unknowns with vaping given the method of inhaling vapor and the potential risk this poses, it is reasonable that your doctor suggests vaping as a viable way to stop smoking if the other options have been exhausted or are not viable.
Who won’t get a nicotine vaping prescription?
If you have not tried traditional nicotine therapy to stop smoking, as per the RACGP’s guidelines the safest way to stop smoking would be to try combined nicotine replacement therapy and specialist support to quit. A long-term nicotine replacement like a patch along with a short acting nicotine product like gum is a great place to start.
Because there are no current studies into the long-term health risks of nicotine vaping products, due to their recent arrival on the market, many GPs do not feel comfortable prescribing them. In this case, speaking to a Nicotine Authorised Prescriber and clinician with expertise in smoking cessation, like any of the doctors at Quit Clinics may be a reasonable option. Vaping products are a specific area of medicine, with new research and law changes occurring all the time, so when possible it can be a good idea to speak to a subject matter expert who is able to advise of the safest ways to proceed taking into account harm reduction from smoking cigarettes.
Smoking cessation alternatives – In case you can’t get a nicotine vaping prescription
More traditional smoking cessation methods remain available to people not able to get a prescription. These include nicotine gum, patches, lozenges and sprays which can be purchased from your local pharmacy without a prescription. On top of that, support groups and psychological therapy can greatly increase your chance of stopping and are often available locally to you.
How does a doctor write a nicotine vaping prescription
If you’re a smoker who has tried quitting previously using conventional methods, like cold turkey, or nicotine gum or patches, an Australian doctor may be willing to write a nicotine vaping prescription. For a doctor to do this, currently they need to either fill out a SAS B form on the TGA website, or they need to be a Nicotine Authorised Prescriber. Your regular GP is a great resource to help you quit smoking and is always the best initial point of contact, however, if you’re struggling to see your GP, your GP doesn’t have the training or expertise in smoking cessation, or if you prefer the convenience and discreteness of using an online service, Quit Clinics can help. All Quit Clinics doctors are Authorised Prescribers of nicotine vaping products and have vast experience and a specialist interest in smoking cessation.
A nicotine vaping prescription is much like any other prescription. A doctor needs to include the patient’s details, the doctor’s details, the drug prescribed, the strength, how much to use per day, and the total maximum quantity to be supplied. For a nicotine vaping prescription, this will likely mean specifying the strength of nicotine prescribed, and the maximum to be used per day. The maximum to be used per day is particularly important for vaping, as this is used to calculate the maximum three months supply.
All Quit Clinics prescriptions will specify the maximum 3 months supply that can be purchased at one time. The longest time a prescription can be issued for is 12 months, so a 3-month initial prescription can have a maximum of 3 repeats on it covering a total of a 12-month period.
Where to get a nicotine vaping prescription in Australia
In Australia you need to get a prescription from your GP, or from a doctor via a specialist online provider. Quit Clinics offer an online and telehealth service to support users with private nicotine vaping product prescriptions. All Quit Clinics doctors are Nicotine Authorised Prescribers and have both vast experience and a specialist interest in smoking cessation.
Travelers into Australia
The law in Australia is that you cannot possess or distribute nicotine liquid without a prescription. This means that you cannot travel to Australia with a nicotine vaping device without a prescription. Your prescription can be from an Australian doctor, or a foreign doctor as you can be covered by the travelers exemption allowing people entering Australia to carry medicines and medical devices for their own personal consumption.
We have written more details here for – All travelers flying to Australia with nicotine vaping products.
How to buy nicotine vapes once you have a nicotine vaping prescription
If you have been prescribed nicotine by an Australian doctor, you currently have two options. You can have your prescription filled by an Australian pharmacy, by taking it to a pharmacy in person or asking your doctor to send it directly to a pharmacy of your choice. Given that the nicotine regulations are still relatively new, some Australian pharmacies do not stock nicotine vaping products, or if they do, options are limited, so it’s worth checking with your pharmacy first. Over time, it’s likely that more pharmacies will stock nicotine vaping products.
Your second option is to import nicotine from an overseas supplier via the Personal Importation Scheme, however, there have been announcements that this route may be banned in the near future, making pharmacies the only route to get nicotine vaping products in Australia. As the changing regulations and rules become clearer, Quit Clinics will update our guidance and information available.
If you choose the personal importation option it’s important that you consider a number of things:
- Buy from a reputable supplier who can provide safety testing documentation about their products. If your supplier is unable to provide this, choose a different supplier. If you’re unsure, ask your doctor or Quit Clinics can help.
- Your supplier will need to include a copy of your prescription in your shipment, to prevent it being seized at the border. Most good New Zealand-based suppliers will happily do this. If they are unable to, choose a different supplier.
- Do not purchase nicotine stronger than what you have been prescribed.
- Do not purchase more than 3 months’ supply. Your prescription should specify what 3 months’ supply is, or if not, you can calculate this by multiplying your daily dose by 90. Purchasing more than 3 months’ supply is in breach of regulations and could lead to the delivery being seized and further issues with the law.
How long is a nicotine vaping prescription valid for
Like the majority of Australian prescriptions, nicotine prescriptions are valid for a maximum of 12 months. Your doctor may specify your prescription is valid for a shorter period. If this is the case, it will be clearly specified on your prescription.
Typically, all Quit Clinics prescriptions are valid for 12 months, and are accompanied by a weaning schedule to help you reduce your nicotine intake during that time. Prescriptions may be extended once they expire if required, however, 12 months is typically a reasonable timeframe to try and slowly wean off nicotine altogether.
Where can I get professional help/support with smoking cessation
There are a variety of different ways to get help and support to stop smoking. A good place to start is your GP, who will be able to help and direct you to local services. If you would prefer to contact someone sooner or more privately, we have put some recommended telephone lines and websites where you can access support.