As part of the Australian Government Department of Health, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) regulates the advertising of therapeutic goods, including prescription medicines.
In Australia, nicotine vaping products, such as nicotine e-cigarettes, nicotine pods, and liquid nicotine, are regulated as prescription medicines. The advertising of prescription medicines to consumers is generally prohibited in Australia.
However, a pharmacy that dispenses nicotine vaping products on prescription may, in specified circumstances, promote to those wishing to fill their prescription that it holds stock.
This fact sheet explains how pharmacies and pharmacy marketing groups can lawfully advertise that nicotine vaping products are available to dispense on prescription without risking a breach of the prohibition on advertising prescription medicines under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 (the Act). It also explains how stakeholders, including prescribers and industry, can communicate information about nicotine vaping products without illegally advertising to consumers.
Consultations are exempt from advertising requirements
Information shared between a doctor, pharmacist or nurse and their patient during consultation or treatment is not subject to the advertising rules for therapeutic goods, including the prohibition on advertising prescription medicines. For example, if a consumer asks a doctor what brand of nicotine e-cigarette the doctor recommends for that patient, the doctor can give this advice without risk of breaching the advertising laws.
Lawfully advertising nicotine vaping products to consumers
Generally, it is unlawful to advertise prescription medicines to the public. However, the TGA has granted a legal permission which allows pharmacies and pharmacy marketing groups to advertise (i.e. promote), with conditions, including specified media only, where an individual may obtain nicotine vaping products with a prescription. In this context 'pharmacy marketing group' is taken to mean the overarching or 'banner' pharmacy group under which pharmacies of that 'brand' operate. The pharmacy marketing group frequently conducts the advertising activities for the individual pharmacies under its 'banner' and is often referred to as the 'pharmacy banner group'.
This means that patients who have been prescribed nicotine vaping products for smoking cessation will know where they can fill their prescription. The pharmacy must ensure that such advertising is within the terms of the TGA permission.
Generally, the advertising of nicotine vaping products is prohibited under state and territory laws. However, where the advertising of nicotine vaping products complies with the legal permission issued by the TGA under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989, the state and territory prohibitions, to the extent of the TGA permission, will not apply.
Specifically, it is acceptable to use one of the following statements to assist the public in obtaining nicotine vaping products:
- [Name of community pharmacy or name of community pharmacy brand or 'select pharmacies'] can dispense nicotine prescriptions
- Prescription nicotine is available ['here' or 'at (name of community pharmacy) or (community pharmacy brand) or select pharmacies']
- Nicotine prescribed for smoking cessation can be dispensed at [name of community pharmacy or name of community pharmacy brand or 'select pharmacies']
Additionally, the statement may:
- Include the location of the community pharmacy with its name.
- If reference is made to 'select pharmacies', the name of the relevant community pharmacy brand.
- Replace the word 'nicotine' with one or more of 'liquid nicotine', 'nicotine pods', or 'nicotine e-cigarettes'. No trade names or other product wording are allowed.
The statement can only be displayed or communicated in one of the following ways, directly controlled by the relevant community pharmacy or pharmacy marketing group:
- A single text-only tile on a website published using no more than three colours or shades in total.
- A text-only post on social media. The post must be limited to a total of three colours or shades and the promotion must not be paid or made by social media influencers or brand ambassadors.
- A text-only poster displayed inside, or immediately outside, the premises of a community pharmacy, that does not exceed A2 in size and is printed using no more than three colours or shades in total.
- A single text-only tile in other print media, including a catalogue, which does not exceed 50 mm x 50 mm in size and is published using no more than three colours or shades in total.
Social media influencers are individuals who have the power to affect the buying habits of others by uploading some form of original or sponsored content.
Advertisers must not provide therapeutic goods or other items of value (including money) to an individual for the purpose of promoting a nicotine vaping product.
- Any promotion must not:
- be made using radio or television (including streaming services)
- be promoted on websites or any other advertising that is not under the direct control of the pharmacy or pharmacy marketing group
- be promoted by social media influencers or brand ambassadors
- be promoted through social media platforms using paid promotion
- contain pictorial representations of nicotine vaping products
- contain trade names, trademarks or logos related to the nicotine vaping products
- contain references to flavours
- statements or the implication that vaping is not harmful or is less harmful than smoking
- contain statements or the implication that the stocked nicotine vaping product is superior to another
- include incentives to encourage a user to take up nicotine vaping products.
Compliant and non-compliant examples
A retail pharmacy which supplies nicotine e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine places a single poster in its window which states, "prescription liquid nicotine is available here". The poster is A3 in size, with plain blue text on a white background.
The Chemist Hub pharmacy group creates a post on its social media pages. The post is grey background with black writing that states:
"Nicotine prescribed for smoking cessation can be dispensed at the following Chemist Hub locations:
- Chemist Hub Downtown; and
- Chemist Hub Pleasantville."
The post does not have any pictures.
Sam's discount pharmacy
Sam's pharmacy creates a post on its Instagram account which states, "Get your Peter Puff range of nicotine e-cigarettes from Sam's." The post is written in green font and includes a photo of various nicotine vaping products.
Factual and balanced information may not be advertising
Presenting factual and balanced information about using nicotine vaping products is unlikely to be considered advertising or promotional, subject to the context in which the information is presented. Some examples of this include:
- a pharmacist providing their general view in relation to vaping broadly with information that is balanced and non-promotional
- medical journal articles or genuine news articles
- re-tweeting or sharing valuable news-worthy information from reputable sources about using nicotine vaping that would not have the effect of promoting their use, or
- presenting comprehensive information that doesn't emphasise the benefits over, for example, the risks and limitations.
As a general guideline, if the content persuades consumers, for example through the use of promotional terms or language, (or through information that discusses the benefits but not the risks or limitations of evidence), to seek out nicotine vaping products, then it would be considered advertising.
NOT PROMOTIONAL: factual and balanced information about nicotine vaping products
A healthcare consumer advocacy group publishes information about nicotine vaping products on its website.
The website outlines the components of nicotine vaping products, for example the nicotine itself and identified flavours, and the effects these components may have on the body. It discusses research findings in relation to nicotine vaping products and explains that more research needs to be done on the safety and efficacy of nicotine vaping products.
The website generally discusses potential benefits of nicotine vaping products but also explains the contraindications, potential side-effects and possible alternative treatments. It explains how nicotine vaping products are regulated and provides a link to the TGA website explaining how these products may be accessed in Australia.
The website does not promote the use or supply of nicotine vaping products and is not an advertisement.
PROMOTIONAL: material that omits important information
A healthcare consumer advocacy group publishes information about nicotine vaping products on its website.
The website describes therapeutic uses of nicotine vaping products including as an aid to quit smoking. No information is given about:
- potential side-effects;
- the limited available evidence in relation to the safety or efficacy of nicotine vaping products; or
- possible alternative treatments.
Due to the lack of balancing information, the material is likely to have a persuasive effect on consumers in terms of the merits of nicotine vaping products and would therefore be an advertisement for nicotine vaping products.
Promoting a health service or business
You must not refer, either expressly or by implication, to a nicotine vaping products in:
- your company, business or trading name
- any other promotional material relating to your health service or business.
This includes using an abbreviation, acronym, synonym or colloquial name for nicotine vaping products or a particular nicotine vaping product (e.g. 'nicotine e-cigarette', 'nicotine e-liquid' or 'nicotine vape juice') and any other reference, including images, that is likely to draw a consumer's mind to a nicotine vaping product.
NOT PROMOTIONAL: business name that refers to condition treated
A health service that specialises in treating patients who want to quit smoking, potentially involving nicotine vaping products, is called 'Quitters are Winners Pty Limited'.
The name of the clinic would not promote the use or supply of nicotine vaping products.
The health service must still ensure that other information it provides publicly to consumers does not convey that its single treatment to quit smoking involves the prescription of a nicotine vaping product.
PROMOTIONAL: business name that refers to vaporiser nicotine
A health service that offers nicotine vaping products for smoking cessation is called Peter Puff Australia Pty Limited, and trades as 'Peter Puff', with a stated vision to provide simple and fast access to nicotine vaping products to aid smoking cessation.
The trading name of the clinic as well as its published vision clearly promotes the use or supply of nicotine vaping products in contravention of the Act.
The corporation could retain the name Peter Puff Australia Pty Limited if it is not publicly promoted. Express or implied references to nicotine must however be removed from its trading name, its published vision and its service offering to avoid committing an offence.
Referencing additional information
Referencing additional information (such as external websites and testimonials) that is promotional or endorses nicotine vaping products, may be considered advertising.
Including additional information can make the original site an advertisement
A website for a smoking cessation clinic might state that the clinic can tailor a treatment plan to quit. This material is not, alone, an advertisement for nicotine vaping products. However, the website links to a UK website which exclusively refers to evidence demonstrating that nicotine vaping products are a successful aid to quitting, which in the eyes of the reasonable consumer would be promotional. The reference to the UK website means that the original site is now non-compliant advertising.
Referencing additional information that would not make the primary material an advertisement
A website for a clinic supporting smokers to quit, references material about the range of alternatives to support quitting including nicotine replacement therapies and prescription medicines such as varenicline. It also refers to nicotine vaping products explaining that the evidence on its effectiveness as an aid to quit smoking is mixed and that there is insufficient evidence to date on the potential long term impacts of their use.
Advertising to wholesalers and health professionals
Advertisements directed exclusively to pharmaceutical wholesalers and/or health professionals do not need to comply with the TGA permission. Subject to State and Territory regulations, such advertisements can include additional information about the products and may refer to product names and flavours. These advertisements, and all other information provided to pharmaceutical wholesalers and health professionals, should be accurate and not misleading.
It is important that consumers do not access advertising meant for pharmaceutical wholesalers and/or health professionals. Advertisers can choose the way advertising is restricted so as not to be accessible by consumers; however, inadequate restriction may lead to advertiser non-compliance with the consumer advertising requirements.
The Advertising to health professionals page explains how to direct therapeutic goods advertising exclusively to health professionals so that the consumer advertising requirements do not apply.
Advertisements directed exclusively to pharmaceutical wholesalers and/or health professionals may also be subject to State and Territory regulations in some jurisdictions. Please contact your relevant State or Territory heath department for further information.
- Further information about the regulation of nicotine vaping products from 1 October 2021 including the product standard which applies to products which are not registered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods is available at Nicotine vaping products.
- If you have questions about the legal requirements regarding advertising of therapeutic goods, please submit an advertising enquiry online with the TGA.
- You can also contact the TGA by phone on 1800 020 653 (free call within Australia) or 02 6289 4124 (for mobiles that do not allow 1800 calls).