Titled, “How are nicotine vaping products represented to pharmacists? A content analysis of Australian pharmacy news sources,” the current study recognizes that with the growing popularity and use of nicotine-containing vaping products (NVPs), it is of utmost importance that pharmacists have the correct evidence-based information on the products. News media, add the researchers, naturally play a central role in shaping the attitudes and opinions about such products.
“Health effects and safety issues of NVPs were the most frequently mentioned topic appearing in a total of 79% of the stories, followed by NVP-related regulatory issues (47%).”
The research team analysed four leading Australian online pharmacy professional news sources, for articles published between 2007 and August 2019. A combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods was used to identify how the safety, efficacy and regulation of NVPs was communicated.
“We identified and analysed 103 relevant articles. Academic research findings and/or expert opinions were either cited or referenced most often, appearing in a total of 59% of articles analysed, followed by government sources quoted in 41% of articles. Health effects and safety issues of NVPs were the most frequently mentioned topic appearing in a total of 79% of the stories, followed by NVP-related regulatory issues (47%),” read the study Abstract.
Most pharmacy news sources portrayed vape products negatively
“Australian pharmacy news media have more often reported the potential risks than the potential benefits of NVPs. Such portrayal is likely to contribute to misperceptions about the relative harm of NVPs.”
Sadly, concluded the study, the majority of the articles portrayed vaping products negatively rather than positively, placing emphasis on the concern that NVPs have the potential to addict youth to nicotine, rather than highlighting their smoking cessation potential
“Australian pharmacy news media have more often reported the potential risks than the potential benefits of NVPs. Such portrayal is likely to contribute to misperceptions about the relative harm of NVPs. Pharmacy staff need access to unbiased and evidence-based guidance on how to handle customer enquiries regarding NVPs.”
Nicotine import ban
Adding fuel to the fire, last June the Federal Health Minister of Australia Greg Hunt, said that the Department of Health was working with the country’s Border Force towards a ban on the importation of vape liquid containing nicotine. The measure was to go into effect on July 1st, and anyone caught violating this regulation was to be fined $220,000.
This ban would have meant that while vapers would have technically still been able to obtain nicotine e-liquids via a doctor’s prescription, in reality not many would have managed, as only a handful of Australian doctors are willing to write nicotine prescriptions under current laws. Moreover, given the complex and time-consuming requirements of the new plan, even fewer doctors would have been inclined to write prescriptions following these changes, and the findings of the above study confirm this even more.
As soon as this measure was announced, there was outrage and a number of organizations and entities who have harm reduction and public health, as well as 28 Coalition MPs spoke up against the ban. Australian Senator Matthew Canavan and MP George Christensen started a petition to overturn the import ban and to instead have it legalized and regulated.
Ban delayed for six months
Thankfully, in response to these actions Health Minister Greg Hunt has decided to delay the ban by six months. Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association Director Dr Colin Mendelsohn said it is a welcome delay. “I think the outrage from the community was just extraordinary. It makes no sense to make a far safer product hard to get.”
Hunt said that the delay to January 1st gives smokers enough “time to talk with the GP, discuss the best way to give up smoking, such as using other products including patches or sprays”. He said that “if still required”, vapers may still get the products by prescription.