Vape suppliers are getting around Australia’s ban on Chinese-made disposable devices by selling them on the black market, an industry expert has revealed.
The owner of one of Australia’s largest e-cigarette stores claims that a recent crackdown aimed at curbing nicotine vaping and allowing smokers to access products to help them quit is actually countering the black market. helps ‘thrive’.
National changes to vaping laws came into effect on Oct. 1, criminalizing the importation of e-cigarettes, pods and liquids containing nicotine from abroad without a valid prescription.
Possession of over-the-counter nicotine vaping products was already illegal in all states except South Australia, opening a gap between domestic regulations and import laws.
Major legislative changes make it illegal to import nicotine e-cigarettes from October 1 (stock image of a disposable vape)
Max Fichkin, who runs The Steamery in Sydney, said the laws will not stop commercial suppliers from smuggling bulk shipments into Australia.
“There has always been a black market, and the more the government tries to destroy it with legislation, the more the black market will thrive,” he told the Daily Mail Australia.
Tobacco shops, milk bars and convenience stores sell them under the counter – and there’s been very little reinforcement.
“If you jump on Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace and search for keywords, there are black market vendors who will deliver nicotine vaporization products to your home.”
Before October, Australians were allowed to import up to three months’ worth of nicotine vapors – although it was illegal in most jurisdictions to possess the products once they arrived.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and the Australian Border Force (ABF) now play a critical role in monitoring illegal imports of e-cigarettes and vaping liquids containing nicotine.
Mr Fichkin said Chinese vape manufacturer HQD announced last year that they had successfully imported about 250,000 units into the country – despite already existing laws banning commercial quantities.
The new laws aim to curb the risk of nicotine vaping ingestion in young adults, while also giving current smokers access to the smoking cessation products (pictured, stock image)
Max Fichkin, who runs The Steamery, (pictured) said the new legislation would help the black market ‘prosper’
He questioned the ability of Australian government agencies to counter a wave of nicotine movers pushing products through busy ports.
“The TGA and ABF want to block these shipments, but one company alone has managed to ship 250,000 disposable vapes within a month,” he said.
“With unprecedented amounts of imports coming into the country, where do they get the resources to stop suppliers and ask for prescriptions?” he said.
After fines were increased earlier this month, those caught selling nicotine-containing e-cigarettes can now face fines of up to $1650 or six months in prison — or both.
Despite the risks, Mr. Fichkin doesn’t think black market sellers will be deterred.
The fine increase is small. The profit far exceeds the costs. I don’t see any convenience stores making less than $1,600 a day selling disposable vapes,” he said.
“It’s a lucrative area to be in.”
Mr Fichkin said disposable vapes (pictured) are sold under the counter at tobacconists, convenience stores and through online marketplaces
While Mr Fichkin argued that disposable vapes are an essential tool to help smokers get rid of cigarettes, he said the new regulations have put legitimate vape shops – which are better placed to help quitters – at a disadvantage.
“The legitimate industry is currently on the brink of being disposable because of disposables,” he said.
“Many people start with disposables — which have a most common strength of 50mg of nicotine — before switching to legitimate vapes to gain flexibility in the amount of nicotine they vape — which decreases when they stop.
‘[But now] we are at a disadvantage because we cannot import nicotine, which makes it difficult to achieve the goal of helping customers trying to get rid of cigarettes.”
While nicotine-free flavored liquids may still be sold, there are now only two ways that prescription holders can obtain nicotine vaping products in Australia; from a pharmacy or import from foreign websites.
Prescriptions can only be written by one of the 80 authorized prescribers, or by a physician approved under the TGA’s Special Access Schedule B.
Mr Fichkin said the laws are damaging to legitimate businesses trying to help smokers quit. Customers of The Steamery are pictured sitting at a tasting bar experimenting with flavors to inhale from devices
An authorized prescriber of nicotine vaporization products must be a primary care physician registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Otherwise, a prescription can be obtained from one of the more than 30,000 GPs and then ordered through a foreign website, under the personal entry scheme.
However, Mr Fichkin said the level of education given to GPs on the use of smoking cessation products was ‘minimal’, highlighting the importance of the experts enabling nicotine to be offered through the legitimate industry.
“The increase in disposables will make nicotine availability a bigger talk in Australia,” he said.
“The topic should be about how the Australian government will monitor its use, as that will help legitimize it and reduce the harm to smokers.”