Risks of illegal and fake vaping products

Vaping laws and regulations

As the laws and regulations surrounding nicotine products have changed over the last few years, so have the products that are being imported into the country and sold illegally. In this article, we will take a look at the rule changes, how some products seem to have changed in response to this, and what risks come from using unregulated and illegal products.

When starting with the legality and illegality of vaping products1, we should start with the rules and where they came from. Prior to the rule changes regarding nicotine vaping in Australia on October 1st, 2021, there were an estimated 500,000 vapers in the country2. At this time, it was illegal to sell nicotine in Australia, but it was still possible to personally import it from overseas markets. While some markets may be less regulated, it’s worth noting that well-regulated markets like the UK and New Zealand3 have strict processes in place for reviewing and monitoring the nicotine vaping products that are allowed for sale. 

On October 1st, 2021, an amendment to the Poisons Standard4 in Australia was made, which classified all nicotine vaping products as prescription-only medications. Because of this change, it became a legal requirement to hold a valid prescription from an authorized prescriber5 when purchasing any nicotine vaping products including disposable nicotine e-cigarettes, nicotine vaping pods, or liquid nicotine (freebase or nicotine salts). 

It is important to note that the law change only impacts the legal market, while the illegal market still exists. The black market has been widely reported, with illegal and unregulated vaping products still readily available for purchase on social media and at some convenience stores. Many of these products have gotten around the changes by simply removing any mention of the ingredient nicotine from their packaging. Both state governments6 and journalists7 have highlighted this fact, and yet access to illegal and unregulated products still continues.

Illegal nicotine vaping products sold on the black market not only raise concerns about their safety profile, but also lack any age verification process for customers. In contrast, Quit Clinics employs robust age verification software, similar to those used by financial and insurance institutions, to ensure that all users are of legal age. Street vendors selling illegal products, however, have no incentive to uphold the same high standards.

What do I gain by purchasing regulated and legal nicotine products?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)8 has created a standard for nicotine vaping products5 to create a safer environment for consumers. The aim of this is to ensure that when purchasing nicotine with a valid prescription, you are gaining an extra level of safety that doesn’t exist when buying illegal or black-market vaping products. As discussed, when companies are blatantly leaving off nicotine as an ingredient from the packaging, it begs the reasonable question – what else is being left off the packaging that could be far more harmful. 

The TGA rules aim to create a standardization and set of reasonable limits for products to fit into when being sold in Australia. These limits and rules ensure that nicotine products being sold in Australia:

  • Do not contain any added active ingredients, such as caffeine, THC, stimulants or vitamins. 
  • Do not contain known harmful chemicals such as acetoin, benzaldehyde, cinnamaldehyde, diacetyl, dethylene glycol, ethylene glycol, pentate-2,3-dione, vitamin E acetate

The TGA also set clear labeling instructions and a maximum nicotine strength of 100mg/mL (equivalent to 10%). Even at the allowable maximum of 100mg/mL strength, there are risks such as skin irritation and dosing errors that must be considered with a higher-risk product.

Risks of black market vaping products

When looking at the risks of black market illegal vaping products, there are two large areas that we see; risks to your health, and risks to your wallet. The more serious and urgent problem as discussed above is that we have mis-labeled vaping products being sold. We have no way of being confident that these products are safe, and what their ingredients are. 
Alongside this, because they are being sold on the black market they are sold at inflated prices. They are costing people more for a lower quality and lower safety product, and also come with the risk of a maximum $222,000 fine9 for illegally importing nicotine without a prescription.

How do I know if I’m doing things legally?

If you are over 18 years old and have a valid prescription from your regular doctor, or from a specialist authorised prescriber, such as the doctors that work for Quit Clinics – you are able to legally purchase nicotine to help you quit or reduce smoking cigarettes. 

The next decision is to either take the prescription to a local pharmacy that stocks nicotine products for your pharmacist to dispense, or to order online and personally import the nicotine products where most suppliers will ask you to upload a copy of your prescription as part of the order process.

Good practice if choosing to import from overseas is to look at well regulated markets such as NZ and the UK where products are produced in a strong regulatory environment. 

If you are importing from overseas suppliers, the rules mean that you cannot import more than 3 months supply per order. And during the 12 month period, the total quantity of nicotine imported can NOT exceed 15 months supply of the goods.

Dr Tom Bracewell
Dr Tom Bracewell


Dr. Tom Bracewell is a dual UK and Australian qualified General Practitioner (GP; Family Doctor) with a keen interest in various medical areas, including smoking cessation, acute and emergency care, sports medicine, and pediatrics. Additionally, Tom is passionate about exploring the efficiencies and advancements that digital health can bring to patient populations. He obtained his medical degree from the University of Nottingham and gained valuable experience working in hospitals across Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, and London, where he worked in different hospital specialties.

During his General Practice training at the Whittington Hospital in North London, Tom embarked on an 18-month endeavor in Melbourne, where he worked in the fast-paced emergency department of The Northern Hospital. This experience not only allowed him to gain invaluable expertise in acute and emergency care but also provided insights into rural medicine. After returning to the UK to complete his GP qualification, he decided to return to Melbourne in 2021 to continue his career in General Practice. With over 10 years of experience spanning hospital medicine, digital health, and general practice, Tom brings a wealth of expertise to his patients.

Share if you care

Other articles

Building a Strong Support System for Quitting Smoking

Building a Strong Support System for Quitting Smoking

Deciding to break free from the chains of smoking is a bold and formidable choice that...

Disposable Vape Ban Announced in Australia from 2024

Disposable Vape Ban Announced in Australia from 2024

As of 28th Nov 2023, the Australian government has announced changes to vaping laws that...

Big Vape: The Rise and Fall of Juul – A Doctor’s Perspective

Big Vape: The Rise and Fall of Juul – A Doctor’s Perspective

With the “Big Vape” documentary streaming on Netflix, we wanted to walk through some...

What Is the Link Between Mental Health and Smoking?

What Is the Link Between Mental Health and Smoking?

The numbers don’t lie, there is a clear link between smoking and mental health, with...

The Nordic Nicotine Habit: Your Ultimate Guide to Nicotine Pouches

The Nordic Nicotine Habit: Your Ultimate Guide to Nicotine Pouches

The Nordic Nicotine Habit: Nicotine Pouches A nicotine pouch is a small bag...

Disposable Vape Devices: The Environmental Risks You Need to Know

Disposable Vape Devices: The Environmental Risks You Need to Know

What are disposable vapes Disposable vapes are exactly what the name implies, a...


Forgotten Password?