Labor and the Greens have struck a deal on vaping. The Albanese government will be able to say that, from 1 July, vaping is a prescription-only activity.

But it won’t last long. From 1 October, adults will be able to get a vape from a pharmacist without a prescription.

Mint. Menthol. Tobacco. Those are the choices now – no more lush fruit or mango ice.

So why the major changes to the government’s initial proposal? Labor needs the Coalition or the Greens to pass bills in the Senate. The Nationals are in favour of a legal but regulated model and the Liberals have been non committal.

That drove Labor into the arms of the Greens, who believe “prohibition” won’t work and individual users must not be criminalised.

With the 1 July start date bearing down on them, it was time to cut a deal – and quickly. Never mind the cries of doctors and public health advocates who had argued the prescription model should not be adulterated.

The deal is far more extensive than amendments flagged by the Greens, which mainly focused on ensuring people will not be criminalised for possession.

The bill will change “possession of less than a commercial quantity” offence – which could have applied to vape users – to a “possession of less than a commercial quantity in a retail setting” offence.

There will be an eight-month amnesty for this new offence, meaning that even if a customer is caught with an illegal vape in a vape store that is raided, they cannot be prosecuted for it until 2025.

So it’s clear vape stores, which are springing up around schools and local shops, are the target – not their customers.

The Greens have also successfully argued that a commercial quantity should be defined in regulations as more than nine vapes. Labor was said to have wanted three.

By abandoning the prescription-only model, this is no longer anything resembling prohibition.

Vapes will be moved to schedule three of the poisons standard, which means you’ll need to talk to a pharmacist to get one. Drugs already in that category include pseudoephedrine, a cold medicine, and melatonin, a sleep aid – hardly difficult to come by.

The October start date for allowing pharmacists to sell vapes is to develop clinical guidance.

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Buyers could be asked if they are aware of alternative nicotine products, but it is not clear whether a buyer would have to say that they are using the vape as a quit aid to get one.

Doctors may have preferred to remain the gatekeepers for legal vapes, but they have welcomed it as a sensible compromise. Nicotine gum, patches and lozenges do not require speaking to a doctor either, allowing the Greens to argue they have improved access and helped unclog waiting rooms.

Pharmacists aren’t happy, arguing the proposal is “insulting” and has turned them into vape retailers. It seems it is more work to quiz customers than fill a script.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the deal will be the knowledge of what is in your vape. Products will be subject to rigorous standards requiring approval and permission from the Office of Drug Control to be lawfully sold in Australia.

That should mean no more nasty additives or nicotine content which is far higher than advertised on the pack.

Let’s not pretend that this compromise means the end of the black market: illegal tobacco is still widely available, despite successive governments investing proceeds of excise taxes into crackdowns. Just how big of a circuit breaker this policy proves to be will depend on the extent of enforcement and the change in culture.

Are people turned off by plain packaging and stodgy flavours? Or will fruity flavours procured under the counter – or over the internet – proliferate regardless?

We are about to find out if the government has clamped down quick enough, or whether it will be left wrestling with smoke.

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Guardian

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