Transcript: Interview with Hamish MacDonald, ABC Radio Sydney - 26 June 2024


Interview with Hamish MacDonald, ABC Radio Sydney

26 June 2024

Topics: Coalition's vaping policy, Labor's vaping deal with the Greens, community pharmacies


Hamish MacDonald: The Shadow Health Minister in the Federal Parliament is Anne Ruston. Senator Ruston, good morning to you.

Anne Ruston: Hi Hamish.

Hamish MacDonald: What is your position on this?

Anne Ruston: Well, I think we largely agree that we want to keep vapes out of the hands of children. In fact, that is obviously the number one thing of any legislation, should be making sure that young Australians aren't getting their hands on these things. But what we disagree with the Government, and we disagree with the amendment from the Greens, is that we just don't think that the existing model is working. And merely doubling down on something that is currently failing is not serving our children, and it's also not clamping down on the rampant black market at the moment. We have billions of dollars every year going into the hands of organised crime syndicates, simply because the model that is in the marketplace at the moment, the prescription-only model - or in the case of what is being proposed by this weird deal with the Greens that, you know, pharmacists are going to be forced to sell something they don't want to sell - is not going to achieve this. So what we are proposing is a highly and strictly regulated retail model, the same as cigarettes, where we get these things behind the counter. We get them in plain packaging. We put all the necessary restrictions around access to them - That you can't buy them unless you're over the age of 18 as a consenting adult. But at the same time, you've got to put the enforcement around this, and so we've said that we're going to put ten times the amount of enforcement activity behind making sure that the approach that we put in place is actually adhered to.

Hamish MacDonald: Can we just separate that out somewhat, because there's a lot of different parts to what you're talking about. We will get to the enforcement. But in terms of what you say is flawed in the Government's new model, which has been negotiated with the Greens, what's the problem in relation to minors? Because as I understand it, a kid would only be able to purchase one through a pharmacy with a prescription from the doctor. What's the problem with that?

Anne Ruston: Well, I mean, I would question why any child needs a prescription or otherwise to get access to a vape. I don't think children should be vaping at all, and we need to make sure that we have a very strong campaign so that children understand the dangers of doing this. But I think that the issue I've got - [interrupted]

Hamish MacDonald: So, you wouldn't allow, even in those circumstances, children - Anyone under 18 would not be allowed to vape?

Anne Ruston: Well, I mean, obviously I'm not the medical expert here, and if a doctor believes that that's the case, I mean, I suppose we have to accept the medical advice, because I've always believed that evidence should underpin any decision. But I do find it quite extraordinary that any doctor would prescribe a vape for a child. I think there are other mechanisms by which we should be dealing with any addiction with children, and the last thing I'd like to see is that.

Hamish MacDonald: But notwithstanding that, if that's the proposal, doesn't that actually limit young people's access to vapes. Isn't that go to achieve the same thing that you want?

Anne Ruston: Well, the problem we've got is that we have a similar model in place at the moment. We've had this model in place for many, many years now and it's simply not working. Children can just go and get access to a vape any where they like at the moment. And I'm sure - [interrupted]

Hamish MacDonald: But under this legislation, they wouldn't be able to.

Anne Ruston: Well, they've never been able to. That's the whole thing. It's never been legal to get access to a vape for a child. It is illegal to sell a child a vape. It's illegal to buy a nicotine vape without a prescription. That's always been the case. What the Government is proposing is very little different than what is actually currently the law. And so we're saying, don't go out there and pretend and double down on something that's not working. Actually be realistic. Tell the Australian public the truth. It's not working. And let's look at a pragmatic way about making something that will work and try something different, because what's on foot at the moment is plainly not working.

Hamish MacDonald: Do you think that it should be sold through pharmacies? Is that a way of providing the sort of regulation that you want to see? Because, obviously, if you are regulating the product, if there is plain packaging, if there are standards around what can be sold, doesn't it need some kind of medical setting like that?

Anne Ruston: Well, I think that the reason this is completely unworkable is the pharmacists, all the pharmacists, have basically come out and said they don't want to be the equivalent of tobacconists, and they don't want to be disposal units for vapes when they're finished. And so I think, you know, you can't just shove something in the face of the 6000 small businesses that are community pharmacies around the country and tell them they've got to now start selling a product that they don't believe has great medical value. I mean, I think the idea that vapes - [interrupted]

Hamish MacDonald: So, where would you have them sold?

Anne Ruston: I think we should have the same model that we currently have, around the regulation and restriction of access, as we do with cigarettes. I think we need to put in place a licensing scheme that's universal around Australia, so that only fit and proper people are able to actually get a licence to sell cigarettes [and vapes]. We have to get them behind the counter. We have to make sure they're in plain packaging, and treat them the way we treat cigarettes, because they're exactly the same product largely as cigarettes.

Hamish MacDonald: So, convenience stores and servos - You're happy for these items to be sold there?

Anne Ruston: As long as they meet the fit and proper person test and are able to meet the licensing requirements. Because let's not forget that we have been really successful in the harm reduction mechanism that we've put around cigarette smoking. We've got cigarette smoking, the rates, down very, very low. And I think we've convinced a lot of Australians about the harm of smoking, but also that it's plainly not cool. And we need to do exactly the same thing with vapes. We need to be realistic about the regulatory model. Because we just want something that works, Hamish. It's all well and good to be ideological about this, but if it's not going to work, there's no point doubling down on it.

Hamish MacDonald: It seems like maybe you're not all that far off the Government in terms of the objective you want to achieve. Why didn't you work with them to just figure out those wrinkles, rather than leaving us with the the Greens model?

Anne Ruston: Well, I mean, I absolutely think there is no Australian who would not support the concept that young Australians being restricted, denied access to vapes or cigarettes or alcohol is absolutely a priority of any government. But the Government has been pursuing this doubling down on this failed prescription-only model, which we have been saying isn't working. They've always refused to move from that position. But unfortunately - [interrupted]

Hamish MacDonald: So, you agree with the Greens position that it shouldn't need a prescription?

Anne Ruston: Well, I absolutely agree that we have got a situation where the prescription model isn't working.

Hamish MacDonald: Sure. Respectfully, that's not quite my question. Do you agree with the Greens that you shouldn't need a prescription to buy a vape?

Anne Ruston: Well, clearly it's not working, so what's the point of pursuing something that's not working? So let's actually do something different. But I disagree - [interrupted]

Hamish MacDonald: But you said enforcement is critical, so I guess that's just what I'm getting at. Do you believe a prescription should be needed to buy a vape?

Anne Ruston: No.

Hamish MacDonald: Okay. Anne Ruston, we really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for coming on.

Anne Ruston: My pleasure. Thanks Hamish.


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