A Cautionary Tale: Australia’s Over Regulation of Tobacco and Nicotine

A Cautionary Tale: Australia's Over Regulation of Tobacco and Nicotine

As tobacco businesses in the U.S. continue to come to terms with operating under increased regulations, observing how other countries are handling tobacco regulation provides some insights into what the future could look like with increased government regulatory actions. Australia’s recent move to address nicotine consumption and tobacco use through regulations, bans and plain packaging should serve as a cautionary glimpse at what the future could look like without relief and with increased government involvement in the business of the tobacco industry. Australia is taking a hard stance on e-cigarettes and nicotine-based vaping products. The country has announced a nationwide ban on the personal importation of e-cigarettes and nicotine refills for vaping devices beginning on July 1, 2020.

In a joint statement released on June 19, 2020, Australia’s Department of Health (ODC) and the Australian Border Force stated that in an effort to reduce the public’s risk of nicotine addiction and poisoning, the Australian Government had made the request of the Governor-General in Council to prohibit the importation of e-cigarettes containing nicotine liquids and salts and nicotine-containing refills beginning July 1, 2020. The only way an individual could get around this ban would be if he or she had a prescription from a doctor.

This ban could remain in place for 12 months to allow for public consultation and the regulation of nicotine products in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (the TGA) in the form of an amendment to the Poisons Standard.

“This would mean that vaporiser nicotine products, including nicotine-containing e-cigarettes would require a valid prescription (except for tobacco cigarettes or TGA-approved smoking cessation products such as gums, sprays and patches). As part of this consultation the proposal will also be considered by a Ministerial advisory committee. A final decision is expected to be announced early in 2021,” the two groups stated in its press release.

Prior to this announcement, there was already an existing ban in all Australia states and territories on the sale of e-cigarettes containing vapor nicotine. Australia has been taking a hard stance against tobacco and nicotine for some time. On June 9, 2020, the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a ruling on complaints filed by Honduras and the Dominican Republic against Australia’s tobacco plain packaging law. The two countries argued that Australia’s plain packaging requirement would lead to a decline in the value of imported tobacco products as a result of consumers shifting from premium to non-premium products due to the plain packaging and lack of distinctiveness between the brands. Similar to the proposed ban e-cigarettes and nicotine vapor products, the WTO argued that Australia’s plain packaging would aid in the country’s goal to improve overall public health through measures that would reduce the appeal and use of tobacco products.