Is the Australian Government Closing the Door on Nicotine Imports?
A month ago, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt shocked the vaping community in his nation when he announced that all private importation of e-juice with nicotine would be banned in Australia as of July 1. Because of the peculiar way in which Australia’s controlled substance laws handle nicotine, thousands of Australian vapers depend on overseas sellers in New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and other nations to supply their vape juice. The ban would cut off that supply route and force vapers in Australia to either vape without nicotine or obtain their e-liquid from pharmacies.
Fortunately for vapers who don’t want to buy e-liquid from health practitioners, the Australian e-liquid import ban didn’t go into effect in July as originally planned. Minister Hunt had announced the ban without giving the Australian Parliament an opportunity to debate it, and many Parliament members were unhappy that they hadn’t been allowed to voice their opinions.
Nevertheless, an angry letter from 28 Parliament members was only sufficient to get Minister Hunt to delay the ban – not to reconsider it. At the time of writing, the Australian ban on private nicotine imports is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2021.
The ban has its share of supporters and detractors, and this article will attempt to summarize the views of both sides.
How Do Australians Currently Buy E-Liquid?
Australian law classifies nicotine as a controlled substance and, unless it’s in the form of a traditional tobacco product or a nicotine replacement product, it can’t be purchased without a prescription. Vaping devices – and nicotine-free e-liquid – are freely available from Australian retailers. To buy e-liquid with nicotine, however, an Australian must first find a doctor willing to prescribe it.
Once someone obtains a prescription, he or she has two options for buying e-liquid with nicotine. The only option for buying it domestically is to purchase it from a compounding pharmacy. Most Australians don’t go that route because the e-liquid that pharmacies create is usually unflavored and not very enjoyable to use. The second option is to buy e-liquid by importing it. Australian law currently allows people to import limited quantities of liquid nicotine for personal use with a prescription. The therapeutic use exemption for nicotine allows Australians to import vape juice from the retailers of their choice. Minister Hunt’s proposed import ban will end that practice.
Why Do Some Australians Favor the Nicotine Import Ban?
Some Australians would like to see private imports of e-liquid end because the prescription requirement isn’t strictly enforced. It’s simply not practical to ask customs agents to check for a valid nicotine prescription each time a package with e-liquid enters the country. Australians know that they aren’t likely to be caught if they buy e-liquid without first obtaining prescriptions, so many people don’t bother with that formality. Reportedly, most of the people who buy e-liquid online in Australia don’t have prescriptions.
Considering that situation, some Australians fear that their nation could one day develop the same type of youth vaping problem that the U.S. now faces. The sale of e-liquid isn’t tightly controlled in the U.S., and millions of teens there now vape. Most teens who vape obtain their e-liquid through informal sources like social media. Australians who support the import ban feel that, if e-liquid with nicotine is only available through licensed doctors and pharmacies, it should be virtually impossible for teens to buy it. Therefore, Australia should never develop a teen vaping problem like what has happened in the United States.
Why Are Some Australians Against the Nicotine Import Ban?
The problem with banning nicotine imports at this stage is that there are already at least 227,000 people who vape in Australia – and that figure is from 2016. The current number of adult vapers in Australia is likely much larger. Although nicotine-free e-liquid is available in Australia with no restrictions, the fact is that most people who vape are using nicotine because doing so has enabled them to quit smoking. Forcing those people to go through the health system to buy e-liquid will undoubtedly cause thousands of former smokers to go back to cigarettes. That would be a major loss to the health of Australia’s citizens.
The second reason why many Australians are against the e-liquid import ban is because, looking at history, prohibitionist government policies seldom work as intended. When the government bans a substance that people want, people find a way to get that substance anyway. Some people will ignore the ban and continue importing e-liquid with the hope that they won’t be caught. Continued attempts to import vape juice will put an undue burden on Australia’s law enforcement agencies.
Other people will attempt to make their own e-liquid or will buy home-made e-liquid from private sources. The e-liquid black market that the import ban will almost certainly create will further increase the burden on law enforcement and will likely result in nicotine poisonings and other unwanted effects.
In short, opponents of the import ban believe that if smokers in Australia want to use vaping as a means of quitting, the government should make it easier – not more difficult – for them to do so.
How Will Australians Buy E-Liquid After the Ban Commences?
If the ban takes effect on January 1 as planned, nicotine-free e-liquid will still be freely available from Australian retailers. The ban, however, will make all private importation of e-liquid with nicotine illegal. Australians who are caught trying to import their own e-liquid will face potential fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Under the terms of the ban, any Australian who wants to buy e-liquid with nicotine will first need to obtain a prescription from his or her doctor. Doctors and pharmacies who want to import e-liquid will need to go through an approval process and obtain import permits. They will then be able to import vape juice from abroad and sell it to patients who possess prescriptions.
Australians who don’t want to buy e-liquid from their health practitioners have just a few months remaining to stock up on vape juice before the ban commences.