National Drug Strategy
National Drug Strategy

National Tobacco Strategy 2012-2018: Draft for consultation

6.6 Consider further regulation of the contents, product disclosure and supply of tobacco products and non therapeutic nicotine delivery systems

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Regulation of the contents of tobacco products and product disclosure

In comparison to the harm caused by tobacco products, there are relatively few controls on the manufacturing and availability of tobacco.

The regulation of the contents, toxic emissions and constituents of tobacco and product disclosure is an area of increasing importance in global tobacco control. Article 9 of the WHO FCTC requires Parties to adopt and implement measures for testing and measuring the contents and emissions of tobacco products, and to regulate these contents and emissions measures in accordance with the FCTC Guidelines. Article 10 requires Parties to adopt and implement effective legislative or other measures to require manufacturers and importers of tobacco products to disclose to governmental authorities information about the contents and emissions of tobacco products.26

The Australian Government has commissioned several studies in relation to possible regulation of the contents and emissions of tobacco products to build the evidence base in this important area and to inform any future regulatory policies that Australia may implement in line with its obligations under the FCTC.

The further regulation of the contents of tobacco products and tobacco product disclosures is an important area of future tobacco control that warrants additional investigations and analysis to inform future policies.

Apart from some State and Territory government legislation prohibiting fruit and confectionery flavoured cigarettes, there are no regulatory restrictions on the ingredients in tobacco products in Australia.59 Additives such as sugar, honey, liquorice and cocoa are used to enhance the “taste” of tobacco smoke to make the product more desirable to smokers especially those experimenting with tobacco.60 Additives such as menthol numb the throat so the smoker cannot feel the smoke's aggravating effects.60 There is also evidence in the literature that tobacco manufacturers have used additives to mask the smell and visibility of side-stream smoke.61

Progress has been made in reducing the fire risk associated with cigarettes. Regulations introduced under the Trade Practices Act 1974 require all cigarettes sold in Australia after 23 September 2010 to comply with the mandatory standard for reduced fire risk cigarettes Australian Standard 4830–2007, Determination of the extinction propensity of cigarettes.

Australia has a Voluntary Agreement in place between the Australian Government and the three tobacco companies which requires the companies to provide annual reports to the Government regarding the ingredients of cigarettes. The reports are posted on the website of the Department of Health and Ageing. Research on this system of voluntary disclosure found that the current arrangements were not effective in informing consumers and health experts.62 The Australian Government has commissioned a study into the feasibility of options for improving product disclosures, which is due to report in 2012.

Non therapeutic nicotine

Electronic cigarettes, also called “e-cigarettes”, are battery-operated devices that generally contain cartridges filled with nicotine, flavour and other chemicals. The electronic cigarette turns nicotine (which is highly addictive), and other chemicals into a vapour that is inhaled by the user. Unlike NRT products, e cigarettes have not been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for medically-supervised use to quit smoking.63 A number of studies raise considerable doubt about their quality and safety, product consistency, reliability, and utility of the labelling and packaging.64-69 There is evidence of e-cigarettes and other non therapeutic nicotine products being advertised on the internet and available in Australia.70

Some international jurisdictions (notably the US FDA) have begun to develop responses to ‘e-cigarettes’ to protect public health. Other jurisdictions (notably the United Kingdom) have announced they are exploring the potential benefits of these devices.

While sale of the nicotine in the cartridges is prohibited as a Schedule 7 poison under the Standard for Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons, these delivery systems are not currently regulated in Australia. There is a need to better understand the potential risks and/or benefits of these products and determine whether there is a need to increase restrictions on their availability and use and identify the most appropriate policy approach for Australia.

The Australian Government has commissioned a regulatory impact assessment in relation to e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products, which is due to report in 2012.

Availability and supply of tobacco

Tobacco is one of the most widely available consumer products in the community. It is available at almost any type of retail outlet across the country including petrol stations, milk bars, supermarkets, newsagents, licensed premises and convenience stores. This widespread availability of tobacco contributes to the notion that tobacco products are a normal part of everyday life and a relatively harmless product.71

Article 16 of the FCTC requires Parties to prohibit the sales of tobacco products to persons under the age set by domestic law, national law or eighteen years.26 All states and territories have legislation to prevent sale of tobacco to children under the age of 18 years and also have mechanisms in place to monitor and enforce this legislation. There are no restrictions on the age of a person who can sell tobacco.

The majority of jurisdictions have also introduced tobacco licensing schemes. A positive tobacco licensing scheme, which links compliance with tobacco control legislation to the right to sell tobacco products, is generally recognised as best practice. Licensing schemes provide a mechanism to vet potential retailers and ensure they are aware of their responsibilities and are a ‘fit and proper’ person to sell tobacco.72