You may have heard Australia is ‘banning vaping’ on Friday, but there’s a bit of confusion around what the ‘ban’ actually means. Before you panic about being arrested for exhaling a fruity cloud of smoke in public, here’s an explainer on what the changes actually mean.
To clarify, from October 1, 2021, you will no longer be able to legally import nicotine vaping products, such as e-cigarettes, nicotine pods and liquid nicotine to Australia.
Those with a prescription can continue to import these products or purchase them from a pharmacy. If you’re caught illegally importing this stuff without a script, you could be slapped with fines of up to $222,000.
What Is Vaping?
While I know you know what vaping is, this is how the Australian government has defined it:
“Nicotine vaping products contain nicotine salt or base in solution and are heated using a vaping device to make aerosol for inhalation (‘vaping’),” the TGA says.
The Department of Health similarly says, “E-cigarettes are devices that make vapour for inhalation, simulating cigarette smoking.”
Adding: “They are sometimes marketed as a way to quit smoking, but there’s not enough evidence to show that they help – or are safe.”
They definitely help, but I can’t vouch for the ‘safe’ part – as Harvard Medical School puts it, “It’s not clear how often vaping might lead to lung trouble or who is at highest risk.”
What is clear, however, is that nicotine is addictive, and if people are taking up vaping but aren’t quitting – or at least attempting to quit – smoking, I just have one question: why? But I’m not here to judge, I’m here to explain.
So What Is Covered By This Vaping Ban?
From October 1, all e-cigarettes that contain nicotine will require a prescription.
This means you can still vape, providing the juice does not contain nicotine or if you have a script from a doc. The law changes are purely around importation.
For years, it has been illegal in Australia to sell or buy nicotine for use in e-cigarettes, so vapers have been importing juice from the likes of New Zealand or the United States.
They can continue to do this, again, as long as they have a prescription.
It will also be illegal to supply any liquid nicotine that isn’t in child-resistant packaging.
The products captured by the banhammer include: nicotine e-cigarettes, nicotine pods and liquid nicotine (also known as eJuice, vape juice, eLiquid).
Products not captured by the changes include: nicotine replacement therapies, such as sprays, patches, lozenges, chews and gums, and obviously vaping products that do not contain nicotine.
The TGA says the changes will make the law applying to importation of nicotine vaping products consistent with existing state and territory laws regarding their sale – specifically that these products cannot be sold anywhere in Australia without a doctor’s prescription.
Apart from pharmacies dispensing nicotine vaping to patients with a prescription, it is illegal for any other Australian retailers, including vape stores, to sell nicotine vaping products. Vape stores will still be able to sell flavours and non-nicotine vaping products, or, separately, devices.
Oh, cigarettes will remain legal, however.
What Will I Need To Do If I Want To Continue Vaping?
Your first step will be to book an appointment with a doctor to discuss your individual circumstances. They will discuss the various options available to help you quit smoking, including prescription medicines, nicotine replacement therapies and support services.
If your doctor considers your access to juice containing nicotine important for your ‘quit plan’, they will provide you with a script – just like with medication.
The TGA has a list of a handful – literally only a handful – of authorised prescribers over here. But ask your doctor.
There are currently no approved nicotine vaping products on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. This means your doctor will either need to apply to the TGA for access to the unapproved product before they give you a prescription or provide you with a script for a three-month (or less) supply of nicotine vaping products.
You’ll need to use the Personal Importation Scheme to buy the products from an overseas website.
Personal Importation What Now?
There will be two main ways to obtain nicotine vaping products if your doctor gives you a prescription: filling your prescription at a pharmacy or importing from overseas websites using the Personal Importation Scheme.
The Personal Importation Scheme is just the official name for “ordering from overseas”. You can order a maximum of three months’ supply at one time and a maximum of 15 months’ supply in a 12-month period, even with a script.
PSA: you should arrange for a copy of your prescription to be enclosed with the package the product is sent in. Australian Border Force officials can stop your import at the Australian border if they suspect it is an unlawful import.
If you are travelling into Australia from overseas (remember when that was a thing?), you may bring nicotine vaping products for personal use if you have a prescription and meet the other requirements for the traveller’s exemption.
Nah, She’ll Be Right
She won’t be.
If you opt to run the gauntlet and import nicotine without a script, be prepared to cop fines of up to $222,000.
But Why Are They Banning Vaping?
There has been a significant increase in the use of nicotine vaping products by young people in Australia. Backing the ban, the TGA said between 2015 and 2019, e-cigarette use by ‘young people’ increased by 96 per cent.
“The changes strike a balance between the need to prevent young people from taking up nicotine vaping products while allowing current smokers to access these products for smoking cessation on their doctor’s advice,” it says.
In June 2020, Health Minister Greg Hunt declared vaping was bad. His data was the unfortunate death of a toddler in Victoria following nicotine poisoning in 2018.
The most recent estimate of deaths caused by tobacco in Australia is for the year 2015. According to the Australian government’s own Institute of Health and Welfare, tobacco use caused a total of 20,933 deaths in that year. This includes deaths from active smoking AND from exposure to second-hand smoke.
Worth a read is this piece from the Sydney Morning Herald where Founding Chairman of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association Colin Mendelsohn further expands on these unnerving stats, diving into the problem with the ban and the unavoidable consequence of sending reformed smokers back to an analogue durry.
There’s also very valid concerns over the potential for a ‘vape black market‘.
Didn’t This Happen Last Year?
When Hunt declared vaping was bad, he also announced he was going to make it illegal to import vape products containing nicotine.
The TGA then landed on October 1 as the date to bring in the importation ban.
TL;DR: from Friday, it will be illegal to import nicotine vaping products into Australia without a prescription.