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The National Retail Association (NRA) has welcomed an admission by a senior Department of Health official at yesterday’s Senate Estimates Committee confirming that smoke-free nicotine products are safer alternatives than cigarettes.

Under questioning from Senator Hollie Hughes, the Deputy Secretary of the Department for Health, Adjunct Professor John Skerritt, said “the evidence is in that vaping is less harmful than tobacco smoking”.

NRA CEO Dominique Lamb said that given this admission it simply made no sense to limit the future sale of “less harmful” vaping products to pharmacies.

“Retail businesses are already struggling in an extremely difficult operating environment. The Department of Health’s proposed model locks out 28,000 small businesses and the 400,000 Australians these businesses employ. Instead the proposal grants a monopoly to big pharma companies ,” Ms Lamb said.

“They are really struggling to understand why the Health Minister and Health Department plan to hand a highly lucrative monopoly right to sell less harmful smoke-free vaping products to multi-billion dollar listed and privately owned pharmacy groups, but lock small businesses out from being part of the solution.

“It’s completely illogical that, whilst retailers across Australia are permitted to sell cigarettes – the most dangerous way for humans to consume nicotine – they are barred from retailing much less harmful smoke-free vaping and heated tobacco products.

“This makes even less sense now that one of the Minister’s own advisers has confirmed smoke-free tobacco products as being less harmful than cigarettes, which are available everywhere,” Ms Lamb said.

“This approach represents the worst of both worlds in terms of damaging small businesses and reducing the opportunity for smokers to transition away from cigarettes.”

Ms Lamb said that building on Prof Skerritt’s testimony, other evidence was on the side of small businesses side when it came to the effectiveness of the use of vaping as a superior quitting aid compared to other methods.

“Smoke-free vaping products are already legalized and properly regulated for sale by retailers in every comparable country to Australia.

“Close to 21,000 Australians die each year from smoking related diseases and small business wants to be part of a new public health revolution and help kick start a downward trend in smoking rates, which has completely stalled in Australia.

Ms Lamb said that the NRA will put the views of its nationwide membership to the upcoming Senate inquiry into tobacco harm reduction, to be chaired by Senator Hughes.

“We are asking for the Morrison government to request its Health Department to delay its proposed regulation until the Senate Inquiry reports its findings and the Cabinet has an opportunity to respond with a whole-of-government policy approach,” Ms Lamb said.

“Small and family retailers want a properly regulated market for less harmful vaping products. Just like the strict retailing provisions currently in place for tobacco products such as age restrictions and age verification, regulated packaging, advertising bans, and quality standards.

“Eventually Australia will follow suit. So let’s do this right, delay this proposed ban and follow a proper whole-of-government approach – starting with this Senate Inquiry and concluding with a Cabinet decision.”