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A major Australian convenience store and petrol station retailer says it would be happy to train staff to suggest e-cigarettes as an alternative to normal cigarettes in a bid to help reduce the smoking rate.

Ampol, owner of Caltex and Foodary outlets across the country, urged the government to allow nicotine-based vaping products to be sold in the same way as cigarettes in its submission to a Senate inquiry. On Friday, the Senate select committee on tobacco harm reduction will hold its first public hearing into nicotine vaping products, which currently can be legally purchased only with a doctor's prescription.