If you’re currently using a nicotine-containing vape or e-cigarette, you need to be aware of upcoming regulatory changes that affect you. From October 1st 2021 you will no longer be able to legally purchase nicotine vaping products from overseas websites without first getting a prescription from an Australian doctor. You can read more about Australia’s new vaping laws here.
Why might a doctor write a vaping prescription?
Any Australian doctor can write a prescription, and your GP is the best first contact point to access a prescription. If you’re struggling to get in to see your GP during lockdown, or you’d prefer to access an online service from home, quitclinics.com can help.
The main reason a doctor might write a prescription for a nicotine vape is to assist with quitting smoking, particularly for smokers who have tried other methods and have been unable to quit. While research is ongoing, a recent Cochrane review found that nicotine vaping 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.
As such the body that regulates GPs, the RACGP, has recommended that doctors only consider prescribing nicotine vapes as a ‘second-line’ therapy, meaning only considering prescribing if a smoker has previously tried to quit using other, more established, safer methods. Patients also need to be made aware that:
- The long-term health effects of vaping are unclear
- No nicotine vaping product has been tested and approved by the TGA
- Possession of nicotine-containing e-liquid or pods without a prescription is illegal
- Only short-term use should be recommended
- Dual use – ie with continued tobacco smoking – should be avoided
Whether you’re speaking with your regular GP, Quit Clinics, or another doctor, be open and honest about your smoking and/or vaping. This will maximise your chances of coming up with a plan with your doctor to quit smoking for good.
Why might a doctor not want to write a prescription?
In most countries, including Australia, most doctors favour ‘approved’ or ‘licensed’ treatments or medications. That is, treatments that have been researched thoroughly to test how effective and safe they are. This process can be extremely costly, and can often take years, and is something that has been well publicised in relation to COVID19 vaccines. In Australia, the TGA is responsible for the licensing of medications, and the assessment of whether they are safe and effective. Currently in Australia, no nicotine vaping product or e-cigarette has been approved by the TGA, meaning that no product has been thoroughly assessed by the TGA, and met its strict standards. This means for a doctor to prescribe nicotine for vaping, they need to prescribe an unlicensed medication, which means more risk to them, and most importantly their patient. For many doctors, prescribing unlicensed medications is something they quite reasonably prefer to avoid, primarily on safety grounds. Almost all doctors will prefer to prescribe a licensed treatment, and will only consider prescribing an unlicensed treatment when there is no better or safer option available.
This means that most doctors will refuse to prescribe nicotine vaping products, unless there’s no better licensed treatment available. Your GP will very likely suggest that you first try nicotine gum, or patches, which are licensed, before considering writing a prescription for vaping. It is only when you have first tried proven, safer, licensed alternatives, and been unsuccessful, that your GP may consider writing a nicotine vaping prescription. For many doctors, particularly those who aren’t experienced prescribing nicotine vaping products, the risk of prescribing them may simply be too high. In this case, speaking with a Nicotine Authorised Prescriber, like any of the doctors at Quit Clinics may be a reasonable option.
Most doctors will not consider vaping as a reasonable option for anyone under the age of 18. Quit Clinics is a service that is only available to patients over the age of 18, and has identity verification safeguards in place to protect young people. If you’re under the age of 18 and smoking, speak with your GP, or alternatively, Quit Clinics doctors will happily give free, non-judgemental advice and support to under 18s, however nicotine vaping will not be an option – just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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, they need to either fill out a SAS B form on the TGA website, or they need to be a nicotine Authorised Prescriber of nicotine. 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 get in to see your GP during the pandemic, or 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.
A nicotine vaping prescription is much like any other prescription. A doctor needs to include the patient’s details, and their 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, if you’re electing to purchase from an overseas seller via the Personal Importation Scheme. All Quit Clinics prescriptions will specify the maximum 3 months supply that can be purchased at one time.
Once I have a nicotine prescription, what do I do?
If you have been prescribed nicotine by an Australian doctor, you 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 new, the majority of 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. If you choose this 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.
How long is a nicotine 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 with 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.