Nicotine e-liquids require urgent regulation in Australia
Posted on October 20, 2020
THERE ARE NO MANDATORY safety or quality standards for nicotine liquids in Australia as there are for all other consumer and medical products. This leaves users at risk from unsafe products and children at risk of poisoning from unsafe containers.
Vaping nicotine is legal under current laws and new guidelines proposed by the Health Minister. The Minister has raised concerns about ‘imported products of dubious safety and quality'. However, there has been no attempt to correct this glaring void in consumer safety.
Over half a million Australians are vaping and regulation is urgently needed for their protection
ATHRA has prepared a discussion paper on regulating nicotine e-liquids to begin this conversation. The document is based on the regulatory model adopted by the United Kingdom and New Zealand with input from Australian and New Zealand toxicologists. The full discussion paper is available for download here and feedback to improve it is welcome.
Safety standards are needed to ensure that high quality vaping liquids are available for adult smokers who wish to switch to vaping as a substitute for deadly smoking. Standards can also reduce access of e-liquids for young people and further reduce the rare risk of poisoning in children.
A lack of product regulation was responsible for the outbreak of EVALI, a serious lung injury resulting in over 60 deaths in North America. An illicit supply chain distributed blackmarket THC oils for vaping which were contaminated with Vitamin E Acetate. The condition was not caused by nicotine vaping.
Regulation of vaping products
Many reputable manufacturers have introduced their own standards to protect customers, however mandatory guidelines are required across the whole industry. ATHRA proposes the following key steps
1 Exempt nicotine e-liquid in concentrations ≤ 5% for vaping from the Poisons Standard
Nicotine is addictive but is relatively benign in the low concentrations used for vaping and does not meet the criteria required for inclusion in the Poisons Standard.
2 Regulate nicotine in concentrations ≤5% as a consumer product
Low concentrations of nicotine e-liquid are consumer products designed to replace a far more harmful consumer product, combustible tobacco. Nicotine e-liquids are not medicines and do not make therapeutic claims. They should be regulated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, not the medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
3 Minimise youth access by strict age verification, prohibited youth-friendly packaging, restricted advertising and public health messaging
Regulation should minimise the opportunity for youth to access vaping products, but it should be balanced so as not to indiscriminately affect adults (for example through flavour bans, nicotine limits or taxes).
4 Introduce laws and guidelines specifying minimum standards for the manufacture and safety of vaping liquids
Guidelines should be developed for manufacturing standards, regulation of ingredients, elimination of toxic components and emissions testing.
5 Introduce mandatory standards for labelling, refill containers and health warnings
Labelling standards and appropriate health warnings are essential for consumer safety and informed decision making. Mandatory refill container requirements include child-resistant caps and protection against breakage, leakage and spilling.
6 Prohibit descriptive flavour names that specifically appeal to youth and unsafe flavouring chemicals
Restricting flavours will likely have minimal effect on youth uptake but will make vaping less appealing to adult smokers. Appeal to youth could be reduced by banning flavour names that may be especially appealing to young people.
7 Establish a notification scheme for pre-market registration
Manufacturers should declare that their products are compliant with applicable health and safety standards prior to marketing and sale.
8 Regulate the sale of nicotine e-liquids in vape shops, other retail outlets and online
Vape shops should be licensed and strict age-verification guidelines introduced for sales from retail and online sources.
9 Permit vaping in specified public spaces and allow owners and managers of premises to set their own regulations
There is no evidence that vaping poses a material health risk to bystanders and a blanket ban in public places is not justified on health grounds.
10 Use public health messaging to raise awareness of the health risks relative to smoking tobacco
Health warnings should accurately convey the relative risk compared to smoking and frame vaping as a cessation aid for adult smokers.
11 Establish a system for reporting harmful effects and recall of unsafe products
A system should be established for reporting and recalling products which are unsafe, not of good quality or not compliant with regulations.