The federal government is banning the import of nicotine e-cigarettes from July 1 – meaning Australians won’t be able to get their hands on the smoking alternative unless they have a prescription from their GP.
Anyone caught trying to bring nicotine vaporisers or refills into the country invite a fine of up to $220,000.
The sale of the products has already been illegal for years, but individuals have been able to step through a loophole and buy them from overseas.
After July 1, vapers will have to source the product through a doctor, similar to other quit-smoking aids.
That overseas trade has ramped up since the government quietly announced the ban less than a week ago, as desperate vapers stockpile nicotine e-cigarettes and refills.
Just across the Tasman Sea, nicotine vapes are legal.
New Zealand vaping business Shosha has noted a 130 per cent uptick in orders from Australia, since the ban was made public.
Vaping is used by many smokers to wean themselves off the deadly habit, which Shosha says it supports – it won’t sell to people who have never smoked before.
The Australian government is trying to squeeze out vaping as it fears it will lead to a revival in the ‘cool factor’ of smoking, and encourage youngsters to pick up the habit.
That’s the line federal Health Minister Greg Hunt was toeing on radio earlier this week, when quizzed about the ban.
Mr Hunt told 2GB radio vaping was “not a safe product”, and said there was a 78 per cent increase in high school-aged children vaping in the US.
However, e-cigarette fans say the ban is essentially a death sentence for the 300,000-odd Australians who use nicotine vaping to keep off traditional cigarettes.
Lobby group Legalise Vaping Australia’s Emilie Dye said the Australians who vape and are still addicted to nicotine may very well be forced to return to cigarettes to fulfil their addiction.
University of Newcastle clinical psychologist Amanda Baker agreed with Ms Dye, and said limiting e-cigarettes to prescription only while allowing regular cigarettes to continue to be sold was not a good public health policy.
“E-cigarettes should be easier to access, especially for heavy smokers, many of whom have tried many times to quit,” Professor Baker said.
“I am afraid not all GPs will be confident to prescribe and pharmacists to dispense nicotine liquid in a short time frame. This action will cause a lot of anxiety among people trying to quit smoking with e-cigarettes.”
Associate Professor Alexander Larcombe, who heads up respiratory environmental health at Telethon Kids Institute, said people who relied on nicotine e-cigarettes would still be able to access them, through their medical provider.
“This means that current e-cigarette users who have used them to assist in quitting tobacco should not be disadvantaged, nor should they have to return to smoking tobacco,” Professor Larcombe said.
The Australian Medical Association welcomed the ban, saying there was no level of “safe tobacco” use.
“Big Tobacco has sought to promote e-cigarettes and vaping as healthy alternatives to normalise smoking among younger people. They are not healthy,” association vice president Dr Chris Zappala said.
The ban is technically only in place for 12 months while the Therapeutic Goods Administration conducts a public consultation to see if it can amend the country’s poison standard to include the products.
A decision is expected early next year.