The Problem with the Australian Vape Ban

Australia has once again tightened the noose on vapers with a new set of laws. The latest Australian vape ban is an attempt to eradicate the black market that their original ban created. Let’s break down the failures in Australian vape legislation and what other countries can learn from their mistakes.

As of New Year’s Day, Australia has placed a full ban on the importation of disposable vapes. And from 1st March 2024, Australian vapers can no longer import their vapes and E-Liquids and will only be able to get them from an Australian pharmacy with a prescription.

Since the original vaping restrictions were put in place in 2021, Australia has seen the birth of a massive black market of imported vaping products, putting vapers’ safety at risk. These are mostly disposable vapes imported from China, untested and unregulated.

Meanwhile, Australia’s neighbours in New Zealand are on target to reach smoke-free status as early as next year after an extraordinary 4 years of decline in smoking rates, now standing at 6.8%. The reason? New Zealand embraced smoke-free alternatives. 

And while these new regulations are devastating for Australian vapers (and the nearly 3 million current smokers who won’t be able to switch to vaping), countries around the world can learn from Australia’s failures.

Australian Government’s Attitudes Toward Vaping
Much like the US, the Australian government has a very misinformed and negative view of vaping. 

In Australia, vaping isn’t seen as a harm reduction tool—rather, it’s incorrectly viewed as a “gateway to smoking” and as a safety risk to the population despite numerous studies stating otherwise.

As a result of this attitude, the Australian government enacted a vape ban, which is where the failures and the black market began.

2021 Australian Vape Ban
Australia’s prescription-only model for vapes was enacted in 2021, which meant that the only legal avenue to obtain vaping products was to obtain a prescription and import vapes from overseas via the Personal Importation Scheme. 

Vapers had to seek out one of very few medical professionals in Australia who had a licence to prescribe vaping products under the Authorised Prescriber Scheme. This was often costly, and prescribers were hard to find. Most Australian doctors share the same view as their government and are sceptical and poorly informed about vaping.

Because of these roadblocks, a new way to vape emerged: the black market. Rather than go through the process of obtaining a prescription and importing vaping products from overseas—which was expensive to ship, let alone purchase—many vapers turned to black market imports of disposable vapes from China, as well as E-Liquids brought across the border from overseas.

This was cheaper and easier to access than legal avenues, which put vapers at risk from unregulated and untested products.

As of now, the legal vaping market makes up less than 10% of Australia’s total vape market. This means that over 90% of the vapes purchased and used in Australia are obtained illicitly.

2024 Australian Vape Ban
Vapers learned of new legislation being proposed last year, and with their collective voices, they hoped to block the new laws. However, over Christmas, the Australian government bypassed the need for legislation and quietly “amended” existing legislation, which doesn’t require them to pass a new law.

As of 1st January 2024, the importation of disposable vapes was banned, including both nicotine and nicotine-free disposable vapes. Retailers who already had disposable vapes in their inventory could continue to sell them until their stock ran out.

And from 1st March 2024, a full-force ban on the importation of all E-Liquids will come into place. The only legal source of nicotine-containing E-Liquid will be Australian pharmacies (both in-person and online) with a prescription. This includes E-Liquid bottles and prefilled pods. The only imports will be destined for Australian pharmacies.

Prescribers will no longer need to be licensed to prescribe nicotine, though prescriptions are up to the practitioner’s discretion (and their discretion may be misinformed). The practitioner must submit a form for each individual patient to notify the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) within 28 days.

This means that the Personal Importation Scheme, which has allowed our Australian customers to purchase from us to ship overseas, will end. 
As we know, the vaping supplies you’ll find at a pharmacy aren’t your typical Elf Bars or Bar Juice flavours. These will only be licensed pharmaceutical products. 

One “prescription-only” vape product we’ve seen being sold in Australia is a prefilled pod kit that utilises pods filled with unflavoured liquid with a 59mg (5.9%) nicotine strength. That’s triple the legal maximum strength here in the UK, and two 1.5ml pods retail for $80AUD (roughly £41). Yikes.

The Australian government has emphasised that their focus is not on individual vapers, and that vapers will not be prosecuted if they’re found vaping without a prescription. The focus of this ban is to tackle illicit imports and sales.

Lessons from Australia’s Failures
The most important lesson to be learned from the Australian vape ban is that draconian measures and prohibitions will inevitably lead to a black market. You cannot simply remove access to something consumers want or need; they will find other ways to obtain what they want.

In fact, we asked UK vapers what they would do if vaping were banned in the UK. 34.9% of vapers said they’d find illicit ways to buy vaping products, while 38.8% said they’d go back to smoking cigarettes. Only 26.4% said they’d quit vaping.

The Australian vape ban essentially created a gap in the legal market which needed to be filled, and the only option was an illegal market.

The UK already has a black market for disposable vapes: illegal models with high nicotine strengths and larger volumes can be found on high streets and in corner shops across the UK. 

But now, with the UK government threatening increased taxation and bans on disposable vapes and flavoured E-Liquids, the question arises: won’t limiting the legal vape market even further here in the UK lead to a bigger black market—one that would be too large for the underfunded Trading Standards to tackle?

In the very same survey of UK vapers, we asked: “What would you say to those who want to limit or restrict your access to vaping?”

One vaper said, “Think carefully as things will be driven underground.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Things are looking mighty grim for Australian vapers.

One of Australia’s most influential vaping activists, Vaping Bogan—who’s known worldwide for his YouTube vaping reviews and harm reduction activism—has been forced to leave Australia and relocate to the UK for the sake of his livelihood. 

He’s one of many suffering because of the Australian vape ban: specialist vape shops have closed, and vapers are left with either a costly prescription fee or safety risks from black market products. 

Not to mention the millions of smokers who won’t be able to make the switch. 

We sorely hope things will change for Australian vapers, but experts aren’t holding their breath.