Nicotine ban linked to black market for e-cigs

Illegal e-cigarettes are flooding the market in Australia, despite the country having one of the toughest e-cigarette laws in the world. Activists and shopkeepers are calling on the Australian government to reconsider and open up the market.

"The demand for e-cigarettes with nicotine is huge. But with the current rules, it is illegal to buy e-liquid with nicotine without a prescription from a doctor. It is far too complicated and has led to an overwhelming amount of black market trade", says shop owner Peter Thompsson to The Western Weekend newspaper.

Nicotine by prescription only

In October last year, Australia introduced a a strict ban on the import of nicotine liquids for personal use. This was the result of a long process whereby doctors would finally be the only ones authorised to write prescriptions for smokers who want to quit smoking with the help of e-cigarettes. Thereafter, only pharmacies would be allowed to dispense the e-liquid. The idea was to reduce the use of e-cigarettes among young people while controlling the trade of nicotine in the country.

'It has never been legal to sell e-liquid with nicotine in Australia. But it has been relatively easy to import it yourself. The new system closed that possibility." noted the doctor and smoking cessationist Colin Mendelsohn in a article on the situation in Australia on the eve of the new law.

90 per cent is a black market

It has now emerged that the trade in nicotine and e-cigarettes in Australia has not decreased since the law was introduced at the end of 2021. Quite the contrary. The supply has increased significantly, but almost 90 per cent of sales now take place on a black market. And it is mainly where young people buy e-cigarettes. Peter Thompsonwho runs a specialised e-cigarette shop in Sydney. Vape shops in Australia have for a long time only provided nicotine-free e-liquid and hardware, and according to Peter Thompson the age checks in the vejp jumps are rigorous.

"But mass-produced disposable models, with very high nicotine strength, are now appearing in mainstream convenience stores. They are easy to order and bring home from factories in China and then sold over the counter in shops. So it's very easy for someone under 18 to get hold of them," he tells The Western Weekender.

Over a million vejpers - despite the ban

Despite the near-illegal nature of vejp in Australia, 1.1 million Australians currently use e-cigarettes. The organisation Legalise Vaping Australia has been campaigning for several years for the government to take a different approach to the issue of vejping and harm minimisation.

"Vaping products exist to reduce the risks of cigarette smoking. Adults should be able to buy the products if they can show a valid ID." says Philip Marlowwho heads the organisation. "We know that it works well because basically all of Europe allows it, as well as New Zealand and Canada. Instead, we let criminals handle the trade and hope no one gets hurt in the end," he told The Western Weekend.

But according to Australia's Department of Commerce, the law is working as intended. The whole idea is that e-cigarettes with nicotine should be part of a doctor-led treatment, not a free consumer product.
"The law aims to reduce the use of non-medicated vejp products among young people while enabling smokers to quit smoking using e-cigarettes, under medical supervision. There is evidence that e-cigarettes help with smoking cessation, but also evidence that they can cause addiction in non-smokers," a ministry spokesperson told Western Weekend.

Sources: Calls for better regulation of vapes as black market booms

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