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What are electronic cigarettes?
Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) or e-cigs, are devices for making vapour for inhalation (vaping). E-cigarettes usually simulate the act of cigarette smoking and are sometimes marketed as an option to help people quit smoking, or as a tobacco replacement.
Unlike Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) products, which have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for use as aids in withdrawal from smoking, no assessment of electronic cigarettes has been undertaken. This means the quality, safety and efficacy of electronic cigarettes is not known.
You can legally import nicotine-containing e-cigarettes (or nicotine-containing liquids for use in e-cigarettes), under the Personal Importation Scheme, provided all the appropriate rules are followed:
- For a nicotine-containing e-cigarette to be imported under the Personal Importation Scheme the product must only be used to help you quit smoking.
- You must have a current valid prescription from an Australian-registered medical practitioner.
- In most cases, you can only import nicotine-containing e-cigarettes for personal use. You can also arrange to import these products for your immediate family, provided that family member holds a valid prescription.
- You can't import more than 3 months' supply at one time under the personal importation scheme. If you wish to bring more than 3 months' supply, your doctor will first need to apply to the TGA for approval.
You should also be aware there are some additional limitations to importing e-cigarettes:
- Under state and territory law, nicotine (whether or not it is for use as part of an electronic cigarette) is a scheduled poison.
- Any product or substance that is a therapeutic good and imported under the Personal Importation Scheme 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.
For more information, see our web page on the personal importation scheme, and talk to your doctor.
Remember - it is your responsibility to follow these rules. You may inadvertently break the law, waste your money or risk your health when buying unregistered products online.
In most cases, e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine are legal, however it's important you understand that this may vary between states and territories. For example, in Western Australia, it is an offence under the WA Tobacco Products Control Act 2006 to sell products that resemble tobacco products, regardless of whether they contain nicotine or not.
Other states and territories have amended their tobacco control laws to treat the advertising, sale and use of e-cigarettes in a similar manner as conventional tobacco products.
For more information, see:
- NSW Health
- ACT Health
- SA Health
- Vic Health
- NT Health
- WA Health
- Department of Health and Human Services Tasmania
The dangers of electronic cigarettes
The Australian Government is concerned about the use of electronic cigarettes in Australia. The impact of wide scale use of these devices on tobacco use is not known, and the outcome in the community could be harmful. As at 11 September 2019, at least six fatalities in the United States have been linked with the use of e-cigarettes.
Some overseas studies suggest that electronic cigarettes containing nicotine may be dangerous, delivering unreliable doses of nicotine (above or below the stated quantity), or containing toxic chemicals or carcinogens, or leaking nicotine.
Leaked nicotine is a poisoning hazard for the user of electronic cigarettes, as well as others around them, particularly children. Dangerous and lethal doses of nicotine can be absorbed through the skin. Electronic cigarettes containing substances other than nicotine have not been assessed for safety.
The Chief Medical Officer and state and territory Chief Health Officers have also released a statement about e-cigarettes and the emerging link between their use and lung disease.
On 25 March 2015, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) issued a statement about electronic cigarettes that concluded:
There is currently insufficient evidence to conclude whether e-cigarettes can benefit smokers in quitting, or about the extent of their potential harms. It is recommended that health authorities act to minimise harm until evidence of safety, quality and efficacy can be produced. NHMRC is currently funding research into the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation.
NHMRC advises consumers to seek further information about e-cigarettes from reliable sources, such as the relevant State or Territory Health Department or their general practitioner.
Information on quitting smoking
The Australian Government is encouraging all smokers to quit smoking. You can get help with quitting from the Quitline, telephone 13 7848, or your general practitioner. For some quitters, using a nicotine replacement therapy approved by the TGA may be an appropriate option. There are also prescription medicines to assist with quitting, subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. It is recommended that you discuss these therapies with your pharmacist, doctor or other health professional.
- Report a problem or side effect
- Can I import a medicine for personal use?
- Counterfeit medicines and medical devices
- Insufficient evidence for the safety of e-cigarettes
- Principles that underpin the current policy and regulatory approach to e-cigarettes in Australia
- Electronic cigarettes containing nicotine
- Centers for Disease Control (US) Severe Pulmonary Disease Associated with Using E-Cigarette Products
- Smoking cessation resources for health professionals and smoking cessation intervention videos
- Consumer information. Better Health Channel e-cigarettes