Australia has unique nicotine vaping laws that you need to be aware of if you are considering using e-cigarettes or vapes as an alternative to smoking cigarettes. There are an estimated 500,000 vapers in Australia, many of whom are unaware of these laws.
While in most countries nicotine e-cigarettes are regulated as consumer products, in Australia nicotine vapes are regulated as medicines. Because of this, it is illegal to buy, possess, or vape nicotine without a prescription from an Australian medical practitioner.
If you’re currently vaping nicotine, you need to be aware that from 1 October 2021 you will no longer be able to legally purchase these products without first getting a vape prescription from an Australian doctor. The main reason a doctor may prescribe nicotine for vaping would be to help a patient quit smoking. Typically doctors will only consider prescribing for smokers or ex-smokers over the age of 18 who have otherwise not been able to quit using more conventional methods such as cold-turkey, nicotine gum, patches, or prescription medication.
Once you have a prescription, you can legally purchase nicotine from a registered Australian pharmacy, or a supplier located overseas. Anyone selling nicotine vaping liquid in Australia, other than a pharmacy, is doing so illegally and risking huge fines, or even prison time. You can legally purchase from an overseas supplier, however, you must ensure that the supplier includes a copy of your prescription in your shipment, or it will likely be seized at the border.
Read on to learn more about Australia’s vaping laws, how to access nicotine e-cigarettes/vapes legally and what you’ll need to do if you’re currently vaping and don’t have a prescription. We go further into Australia’s latest or upcoming vaping laws, as well as how to access nicotine e-cigarettes/vapes legally and what you’ll need to do if you’re currently vaping without a prescription for nicotine e-cigarettes.
Is E-cigarette Nicotine legal?
Nicotine used for vaping is regulated as a medicine in Australia, and it is only legal to buy, use or possess if you have a valid prescription from an Australian doctor. It is illegal to sell nicotine-containing e-liquid for vaping in Australia unless being sold by a registered Australian pharmacy. Nicotine-free e-liquid or ‘vape juice’ can legally be sold in Australia to adults, and can be legally bought from vape stores around the country.
In most states, it is illegal to sell an e-cigarette or vaping device, whether it contains nicotine or not, to anyone under the age of 18. In many states, police have the authority to seize vaping devices from anyone under the age of 18.
How can I obtain e-cigarette nicotine legally?
To legally access nicotine for vaping in Australia, you’ll first need a prescription from an Australian doctor. For a doctor to legally write a nicotine prescription, they will need to apply to the TGA by filling in a Special Access Scheme (SAS) B form, or they need to be an Authorised Prescriber of Nicotine. Most doctors in Australia haven’t prescribed nicotine for vaping, however chatting to your own GP is a good first step to see if they’re willing to provide a prescription. There are currently only a handful of doctors in Australia that are TGA Authorised Prescribers of Nicotine, so your GP will most likely have to fill in a SAS B Application, which typically takes a few days to process. Alternatively, Quit Clinics offers same-day access to Australian doctors who are all Authorised Prescribers of nicotine. You do not need a referral, but Quit Clinics will happily accept a referral from your GP if they’re not comfortable prescribing themselves. It’s important to be aware that most Australian doctors, including Authorised Prescribers of nicotine, will only prescribe to smokers/ex-smokers over the age of 18, that have first tried other methods to try quitting smoking, such as cold-turkey, counseling through services like the Quitline, nicotine gum or patches, or prescription medication. If you haven’t tried any of these first, they are a safer first step than trying nicotine e-cigarettes/vapes.
How long is a nicotine vaping prescription valid for?
When your doctor writes your prescription, they will stipulate how long the prescription is valid for. Typically, this can be anywhere from 3-12 months, with 12 months being the maximum, just like any other prescription. If your prescription expires, but you have yet to kick the nicotine habit altogether, it is possible for a follow-on prescription to be issued.
Once you have a prescription from an Australian doctor, you can then legally purchase nicotine from a registered Australian pharmacy, or from an overseas website via the Personal Importation Scheme. Currently, most Australian pharmacies do not stock nicotine for vaping, so the majority of Australian vapers buy from overseas websites, particularly from New Zealand, where the quality and safety of nicotine vaping products are tightly regulated. If you choose to purchase from overseas, ensure that the company you are buying from is a reputable supplier that is willing to include a copy of your prescription in your shipment to ensure that it won’t be seized at the border. If your supplier isn’t willing to do this, you should look for a different supplier. Quit Clinics can help you find one if you’re struggling.
How much liquid nicotine can I import into Australia?
You can legally import up to 3 months’ supply at one time via the Personal Importation Scheme. Your prescription should clarify how much you can legally import at one time. All Quit Clinics prescriptions specify the maximum you can import at once. If your GP hasn’t specified this in your prescription, they will likely have stated a maximum daily dose. You can then calculate the maximum you can purchase by multiplying this number by 90. For example, for a prescription that specifies a maximum daily dose of 10mL, the maximum you can purchase at one time would be 10mL x 90 (900mL).
What should I do if I’m vaping without a prescription?
Speak with a doctor! Many vapers are aware of the strict regulation, but don’t have a prescription, and fear talking to a doctor about this due to the harsh penalties that might apply. Like all doctor consultations, you are protected by patient-doctor confidentiality, and all GPs are experienced with dealing with addiction to both legal, and illegal drugs. Be open and honest about your smoking history and/or vaping use. If your doctor isn’t comfortable prescribing, they should offer an alternative. If your regular GP is unable to help, or you’re uncomfortable speaking with your regular GP, you may contact Quit Clinics for help. All Quit Clinics staff value patient/doctor confidentiality in the highest regard.
E-cigarette Nicotine Laws in Each State in Australia
The Australian law detailed above applies to all Australian States and Territories, however, there are slightly different laws, and significantly different penalties that apply depending on what part of Australia you are located in.
In all States and Territories, liquid nicotine cannot be sold without approval from the Ministry of Health. No retailer in Australia has been granted this approval.
In all States and Territories, other than WA and NT, vaping is not allowed in smoke-free areas. In WA and NT vapes can be used in smoke-free indoor and outdoor areas, however individual establishments are allowed to develop and implement their own policies to restrict use.
What varies dramatically between different areas of Australia, is the potential penalties that apply for possessing nicotine liquid, or nicotine vapes/e-cigarettes without a valid doctor’s prescription.
What are the penalties for obtaining e-cigarette nicotine illegally?
There are very significant penalties for acquiring or possessing liquid nicotine without a valid prescription. Whether you agree with the harshness of these penalties or not, it is important to be aware of them. If you’re considering purchasing nicotine it is imperative that you first have a valid prescription to avoid these potential penalties. The cost or perceived inconvenience of accessing a prescription is a fraction of the potential penalties detailed below.
|New South Wales||$1,100 max||Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Regulation 2008|
|Victoria||$15,546 max||Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Regulations 2017|
|Western Australia||$45,000||Medicines and Poisons Act 2014|
|Queensland||$9752 max||Health (Drugs and Poisons) Regulation 1996|
|South Australia||$10,000 max||Controlled Substances Act 1984|
|Northern Territory||$15,400 max Or prison||12 months||Medicines, Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act|
|Tasmania||$7,850 Or prison||Up to 2 years||Poisons Act 1971|
|ACT||$30,000 max Or prison or both||2 years||Medicines, Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act 2008|
Why are Australia’s nicotine vaping laws so strict?
Australian regulators have taken a significantly different approach to vaping than other Western countries. In countries like the USA, Canada, the UK, and NZ, nicotine vaping products can be bought in most convenience stores.
Australia’s unique regulation was debated in the October 2020 Tobacco Harm Reduction Senate Enquiry. During the long and at times heated enquiry, different arguments were heard. Broadly speaking, committee members were asked to balance the potential public health benefit increased accessibility of nicotine vaping products could have for smokers, with the potential unknown long-term risks associated with their use, and the risk of nicotine vapes appealing to younger people, as has been widely publicised in the USA.
Ultimately this new regulation, which sees nicotine vapes regulated as a medicine, rather than a consumer good, is primarily designed to ensure that a whole new generation doesn’t become addicted to nicotine while allowing smokers the ability to access nicotine vaping products legally.
While the regulation may seem strict or an inconvenience to some, it provides clarity that nicotine vaping products are available to smokers who have otherwise been unable to quit, and gives them a clear pathway for smokers to access a potentially life-saving alternative.
The regulation also encourages vapers to reduce or ‘wean’ their nicotine use over time, rather than just vaping nicotine indefinitely.
Where can I find out more about Australia’s Nicotine Vaping Laws?
The TGA is responsible for the regulation of nicotine.
Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association (ATHRA) is a registered health promotion charity established to reduce the harm from tobacco smoking in Australia. ATHRA’s aim is to provide smokers and health professionals with evidence-based information on safer alternatives to smoking. ATHRA’s broader goal is to encourage the complete cessation of tobacco smoking in Australia. Or ask us! We’re happy to help with any questions or concerns. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours.