Nicotine for e-cigarettes import ban

woman vaping in a restaurant

E-cigarettes containing nicotine are set to be banned from importation, in a move welcomed by doctor groups

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has advised that the Australian Government plans to ask the Governor-General in Council to amend the Customs (Prohibited Import) Regulations from 1 July 2020 prohibiting the importation of e-cigarettes containing vaporiser nicotine (nicotine in solution or in salt or base form) and nicotine-containing refills unless on prescription from a doctor.

“The sale of e-cigarettes containing vaporiser nicotine (nicotine in a solution or in salt or base form) is already prohibited by law by each state and territory, because of public health concerns,” the TGA says.

“This measure further strengthens Australia’s precautionary approach to e-cigarettes, by prohibiting the importation of nicotine for use in e-cigarettes unless exempt under specific circumstances.

“Evidence suggests that the use of e-cigarettes by non-smoking youths predicts future take up of smoking. In the USA, there was a 78% increase in the number of high school children who are vaping over the most recent 12-month period surveyed.

“Without action, Australian youth will also be at risk.

“The Victorian Poisons Information Centre reported 41 cases of liquid nicotine poisonings in 2019, up from 21 in 2018. In July 2018, a Victorian toddler died from e-cigarette liquid nicotine consumption.”

The TGA advises that should the change be adopted, people will be able to access nicotine for smoking cessation purposes “with appropriate medical supervision”.

“You will need a prescription from your doctor for an e-cigarette containing vaporiser nicotine, and it will need to be obtained on your behalf by a medical supplier or from a pharmacist who dispenses it for your use as the named patient,” it says.

“The company or the pharmacist will need to be given a copy of your prescription.

“You are no longer permitted to import nicotine for use in e-cigarettes directly from an overseas supplier without a valid import permit.”

E-cigarette products not containing nicotine can still be imported.

The Australian Border Force is obliged to seize e-cigarette products containing nicotine at the border.

More information is available here.

Doctors welcomed the move.

AMA Vice President, Dr Chris Zappala – a respiratory specialist – said that nicotine is highly addictive.

“Big Tobacco has sought to promote e-cigarettes and vaping as healthy alternatives to normalise smoking among younger people,” he said. “They are not healthy.

“The AMA welcomes the move to strengthen the response to the importation of nicotine liquids for use in e-cigarettes. Stronger enforcement should see a reduction in the amount of illegally imported nicotine solution coming to Australia.

“The AMA is concerned about the quality of imported nicotine solutions. Some have been found to contain higher levels of nicotine than advertised, as well as other adulterants that may pose a risk to users’ health.

“The continued ban will also prevent non-smokers from unintentionally developing nicotine addiction, which can lead to traditional tobacco use. Given the experience in the US, this is a particular concern for young people in Australia.”

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said that, “The long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes or ‘vaping’ are unknown and public health experts have different views on whether they are effective as a smoking cessation tool”.

“This is not a smoking cessation aid that should be embraced by all smokers in the community, it is a last resort prescription for people who have already tried evidence-based smoking cessation options and not succeeded.

“GPs will be able to prescribe e-cigarettes for patients who have tried to quit smoking but failed again and again.”

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