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Nicotine e-cigarettes: Information for consumers

21 December 2020

This page provides an overview of how consumers can access nicotine e-cigarettes to help quit smoking where appropriate.

Nicotine e-cigarettes require a prescription

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) or e-cigs, are products that heat a liquid ('juice') to make vapour for inhalation ('vaping').

From 1 October 2021, the law for you to import nicotine e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine will align with the law for you to buy such products domestically. The gap between Commonwealth and state and territory law has been closed so that you will need a doctor’s prescription (script) to legally access nicotine e-cigarettes and nicotine liquids in Australia.

This measure is designed to prevent the use of such products by non-smokers, particularly youth and young adults. It will provide an opportunity for current smokers to receive appropriate advice from a doctor on the use of, and risks associated with, these products.

Certain other novel nicotine delivery products will also require a prescription, including heat-not burn tobacco. In each case the nicotine products can only be legally used by the person named on the prescription; they cannot be legally supplied to friends or family members.

Nicotine replacement therapies (including sprays, patches, lozenges and chews) that do not require a prescription will continue to be available from pharmacies and some retail outlets.

Speak to your doctor about quitting smoking

If you are wondering whether nicotine e-cigarettes can help you quit smoking, your first step is to speak with a doctor. A doctor can provide advice about suitable options for your circumstances, which may include nicotine e-cigarettes or other over-the-counter, prescription, or non-medicine options.

For another source of help with quitting smoking, you can also phone the Quitline on 13 7848 or visit the Quit Now website.

What your doctor may need to do

There are currently no TGA approved nicotine e-cigarettes on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG). Medicines not included on the ARTG are known as ‘unapproved’ medicines. There are established pathways for legal access to unapproved nicotine e-cigarettes, with a doctor’s prescription.

If a doctor determines that a nicotine e-cigarette is suitable for your needs, they may need to apply to the TGA for access to the unapproved product before they give you a prescription.

You will always need a prescription from your doctor to legally access and import nicotine e-cigarettes in Australia. However, your doctor does not need to apply to the TGA for access if you intend to use the Personal Importation Scheme to import a 3 month (or less) supply of nicotine e-cigarettes (see below).

If you want to obtain nicotine e-cigarettes from a local community pharmacy or Australian based on-line pharmacy, your doctor will need to apply to the TGA for authority to prescribe unapproved products, through either the Special Access Scheme or the Authorised Prescriber scheme. For the Authorised Prescriber Scheme, the doctor need only apply once every 5 years by submitting their name, address and registration number using an online form. There is no charge for applying and an Authorised Prescriber can prescribe nicotine for smoking cessation to any number of patients.

Obtaining nicotine e-cigarettes

There are two main ways to obtain nicotine e-cigarettes if your doctor gives you a prescription:

  • filling your prescription at a pharmacy (either a physical community pharmacy or an Australian online pharmacy)
  • importing from overseas using the Personal Importation Scheme.

Be aware that apart from pharmacies dispensing nicotine e-cigarettes to patients with a prescription, it is illegal for any other retailers including vape stores in Australia to sell nicotine e-cigarettes or liquid nicotine.

If you are travelling into Australia from overseas, you may bring nicotine e-cigarettes for personal use if you have a prescription and meet the other requirements for the traveller’s exemption.

The flow chart below illustrates the steps involved in legal access to nicotine e-cigarettes in Australia.

flowchart including the steps for dispensing prescription e-cigarette nicotine

Filling your prescription at a pharmacy

You can fill your nicotine e-cigarette prescription at your local community pharmacy.

If you intend to fill your prescription at a pharmacy, your doctor will need to be an authorised prescriber or have applied to TGA through the Special Access Scheme B (see above).

Using the Personal Importation Scheme

You can order the nicotine e-cigarettes prescribed by your doctor from an overseas online retailer using the Personal Importation Scheme.

Under the Personal Importation Scheme, you can order a maximum of 3 months' supply at one time and a maximum of 15 months' supply in a 12 month period.

You should arrange for a copy of your prescription to be enclosed with the package the product is sent in. Australian Border Force (ABF) officials can stop your import at the Australian border.

If there is no prescription enclosed in the package, the ABF will refer the import to the TGA for assessment. The TGA will then contact you to ask for a copy of your prescription. If you do not provide a copy of your prescription, the TGA can request that the ABF forfeit (destroy) the goods. You may also face penalties for importing a prescription medicine without legal authority.

If you need to import more than a 3 month supply in a single order, your doctor will need to apply to the TGA for approval through the Special Access Scheme or the Authorised Prescriber Scheme before they give you a prescription (see above).

Report side effects and problems

We strongly encourage consumers and health professionals to report any suspected side effects related to e-cigarettes.

The TGA has an important role in monitoring the safety of ‘unapproved’ products. Reporting side effects and problems helps us to understand the safety of a product. We investigate significant safety concerns as part of ensuring product safety in the Australian community.