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Liquid nicotine and personal importation for use in electronic cigarettes

Behind the news

4 June 2014

This TGA behind-the-news article was published on 4 June 2014. Behind-the-news articles are published in response to issues that are of interest to the community at a point in time, for example, subjects that have been in the media.

Some recent media reports about electronic cigarettes suggest that the importation of nicotine in personal amounts is exempt from regulation. This is not always the case.

The media reports appear to be in reference to the personal importation scheme for therapeutic goods under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989. It should be noted that there are important limitations to this scheme in relation to the importation of electronic cigarettes:

  • Under state and territory law, nicotine (whether or not it is for use as part of an electronic cigarette) is a Scheduled poison.
  • Liquid nicotine is a dangerous poison and an emerging cause of inadvertent poisoning overseas.
  • Any product or substance that is a therapeutic good and personally imported under the Act must also be legal within your own state or territory.

You should therefore check whether nicotine can be possessed or supplied in your own state or territory.

If the liquid nicotine is for a therapeutic use (such as smoking cessation), it is a prescription medicine. To import a prescription medicine you need to possess a valid prescription written by a registered Australian medical practitioner. Under most state and territory laws only a medical practitioner can only write a prescription for a medicine, or prescribe a substance that is for therapeutic use.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has not assessed any of these products for therapeutic use.

Risks of buying therapeutic goods from overseas

Consumers should also be aware that there are risks associated with buying any medicines or medical devices from overseas. These products may not meet the same standards of quality, safety or efficacy as those approved by the TGA for supply in Australia. You could inadvertently risk your health, break the law or waste your money.