Australia E-Cig Laws and Regulatory Environment

June 2, 2015

Anyone who has tried researching Australia e-cig laws knows that rules vary from state to state and are always changing. Laws are going to continue to evolve and conflict with one another, and many decisions will ultimately be decided in court. In the meantime, vapers and distributors alike must do their best to keep up with the latest developments.

At the national level, nicotine is classified as a poison unless it’s in a cigarette or a government recognized therapeutic cessation product. This means that retailers are barred from selling nicotine cartridges and e-cigs containing nicotine; however, local governments are responsible for enforcing nicotine restriction laws, so these items are not impossible to find in Australian tobacco shops. E-cigs without nicotine are not regulated by the Australian government and are widely available in some regions.

In Australia, the Federal Department of Health and Ageing classifies every form of nicotine, except for replacement therapies and cigarettes, as a form of poison. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has said that there were no laws preventing the importation of e-cigarettes bought over the internet for personal use, unless prohibited by state and territory legislation. State laws in Australia’s various states are a little bit conflicting, and is as follows;

New S. Wales
No regulations on buying and possessing products containing nicotine.

N. Territories
Permit is required to possess nicotine.

Nicotine is classified as a regulated poison therefore prohibits a person from obtaining and possessing nicotine.

S. Australia
No Regulation on the possession of nicotine and products containing nicotine.

Nicotine possession is not prohibited

Personal use is allowed

W. Australia
Banned (Nicotine)

Australia E-Cig Laws, Ruling, and Regulation Elements

Some states have been more proactive in limiting e-cigs. Western Australia e-cig laws completely ban the sale of all electronic cigarettes, even including those without nicotine. Queensland recently modified its Tobacco Act to make restrictions on tobacco use apply to e-cigs, which means they cannot be sold to children and may not be used in public places. Meanwhile, Victoria has no age restrictions on buying e-cigs without nicotine.

The Tasmanian Department of Health’s fact sheet about e-cigs mentions that citizens may “import or supply e-cigarettes as an aid to reduce nicotine dependence so long as they petition The Therapeutic Goods Administration of Australia.” The TGA has approved importation of nicotine-containing e-cigs for the purpose smoking cessation so long as local state laws do not prohibit it. Therefore, it is unclear if this clause applies to citizens in Western Australia.

Currently, Cancer Council Australia and the National Heart Foundation Australia are advocating for the Australian government to adopt three major regulations: a ban on all retail sales of all e-cigs regardless of nicotine content; the implementation of comprehensive non-smoking laws, which would ban the use of e-cigs wherever cigarettes are banned; and the expansion of existing laws restricting tobacco advertisements to also cover e-cigs.

Professor Wayne Hall, director of the Centre of Youth Substance Abuse Research at the University of Queensland, believes e-cigs should be regulated, but he also believes they have a potential to help tobacco smokers quit smoking. He joined 53 other healthcare specialists in signing a submission to the WHO claiming that e-cigs present a viable and less harmful alternative to tobacco use. In an interview with Australian periodical The Saturday Paper, Professor Hall claimed, “The current policy doesn’t make a lot of sense,” noting that legislators going to such extents to regulate e-cigs while cigarettes remain easily available is hypocritical. Hall said that he would allow the sale of e-cigs to adults through government licensed sales outlets, which would minimize the black market and allow the government to collect data on e-cig use to improve future health policies.

E-cigs work by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine and flavorings to produce a vapor, unlike conventional tobacco cigarettes which produce smoke containing thousands of chemicals. For this reason alone, they are generally regarded as a potentially safer alternative to traditional tobacco products. More and more evidence is emerging that suggests current smokers who try e-cigs are more successful at quitting tobacco products than smokers who try to quit smoking cold turkey or with the aid of pharmaceutical cessation products.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia seems to agree that e-cigs can produce positive benefits to smokers given their exception for e-cigs imported for personal therapeutic use. Unfortunately, obtaining permission from the government and navigating state laws is very difficult, so few Australians are able to take advantage of these potentially reduced harm devices.

The TGA website states, “The impact of wide scale use of [e-cigs] on tobacco use is not known, and the outcome in the community could be harmful.” Instead of just assuming the worst, the TGA should be encouraging more research about e-cigs. Laws and regulations will likely always be a couple steps behind research and science, so it’s up to consumers to stay educated and make their own decisions.