The widespread illegal sale of nicotine e-cigarette products across Australia is incredibly concerning, and requires urgent government action.
NOTE: On 2 May 2023, the Federal Government announced its intention to introduce major changes to the way e-cigarettes are regulated in Australia. In particular, the Government intends to introduce new laws preventing the importation of all non-prescription e-cigarette products.
The information below reflects the current legislation as of May 2023. This page will be updated as soon as possible to reflect future amendments to legislation in line with the Government’s announcement, as those changes come into operation.
What are electronic cigarettes?
Electronic cigarettes (also known as ‘e-cigarettes’ or ‘vapes’) are battery operated devices that heat a liquid to produce an aerosol that users inhale. E-cigarettes are designed to deliver nicotine and/or other chemicals directly to the lungs. They do not generally contain tobacco, and products vary widely in their ingredients and design.
Many e-cigarettes look like everyday items (such as pens and USB sticks), and are therefore very easy to conceal.
More detailed information on the chemicals found in e-cigarette products is available on the Tobacco in Australia: Facts and Issues website.
Are e-cigarettes legal in Victoria?
E-cigarette products that contain nicotine can only be supplied by a registered pharmacist, and must only be supplied to a person with a valid prescription.1
A medical practitioner can prescribe a nicotine e-cigarette product for use in a smoking cessation attempt. However, nicotine e-cigarette products have not been assessed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (Australia’s medicines regulator) as being effective, safe or of high quality. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) therefore recommends nicotine e-cigarette products only be considered when proven cessation supports have not been successful.
In Victoria, e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine can currently be sold in retail stores. However, it is illegal to sell an e-cigarette product to a person under the age of 18 years. Retail stores must also comply with point-of-sale advertising restrictions.
From 1 January 2024, the Commonwealth Government will implement a ban on the importation of all disposable single use e-cigarettes into Australia (regardless of whether they contain nicotine).
In parallel with this ban, a new ‘Special Access Scheme’ pathway to prescribe e-cigarettes will begin on 1 January 2024. This pathway is intended to reduce the amount of ‘red tape’ involved for medical practitioners and nurse practitioners who choose to prescribe an e-cigarette product to help a patient quit smoking.
More detailed information about the legal status of e-cigarettes across Australia is available on the Tobacco in Australia: Facts and Issues website.
It is important to be aware that many e-cigarette products contain nicotine, even though there may be no mention of nicotine on the product label. The only way to tell for certain whether an e-cigarette product contains nicotine, is to test the product in a laboratory. As a result, large numbers of e-cigarette products containing nicotine are being illegally imported, stored in warehouses and sold in retail stores across Victoria (and Australia) without detection.
What is Quit’s policy position on e-cigarettes?
The widespread illegal sale of nicotine e-cigarette products across Australia is incredibly concerning, and requires urgent coordinated action across all levels of government.
In recent years, there has been an alarming increase in the number of children and young adults using e-cigarettes. This increase in e-cigarette use is particularly concerning given there is strong evidence that non-smokers who use e-cigarettes are three times as likely to go on to smoke tobacco cigarettes.2 The widespread availability of e-cigarette products threatens to undo decades of success in helping Victorians live tobacco-free lives.
Quit Victoria therefore strongly supports Cancer Council’s policy position on the need for improved regulation of e-cigarettes. A copy of Cancer Council's position statement is available here.
As noted above, on 2 May 2023, the Federal Government announced its intention to introduce major changes to the way e-cigarettes are regulated in Australia, including prohibiting the importation of all non-prescription e-cigarettes (regardless of whether they contain nicotine). Further information regarding the announcement can be found here.
Quit Victoria commends the Federal Government for its decisive action on this incredibly important public health issue. Quit calls on the Victorian Government to support action taken by the Federal Government at the border, by amending state legislation to prohibit the supply of all non-prescription products.
1. In some circumstances, a limited quantity of e-cigarette products can also be imported from overseas with a valid Australian prescription (however, a number of legal requirements must be satisfied for this to occur).
2. Banks E, Yazidjoglou A, Brown S, Nguyen M, Martin M, Beckwith K, Daluwatta A, Campbell S, Joshy G. Electronic cigarettes and health outcomes: A systematic review of global evidence. Report for the Australian Department of Health. National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health. Canberra: April 2022. Available from: https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/262914/1/Electronic%20cigarettes%20health%20outcomes%20review_2022_WCAG.pdf
Last updated: November 2023