The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is keeping its ban on the sale of nicotine containing e-cigarettes in place. 

The restrictions on nicotine for e-cigarettes were up for review this year, with 71 public submissions made, 54 of which supported allowing access to nicotine, while and 17 opposed the proposal.

The proposed amendment to nicotine scheduling would have allowed nicotine use in an electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) otherwise known as an ‘electronic cigarette’ or ‘vape’, with strict controls on the concentration, total amount of nicotine, child restraints and safety labelling.

Despite international moves (in the UK, New Zealand, and the USA) in favour of the combustion-free nicotine alternative, the regulators decided to make no change.

Opinion among Australian experts is divided.

“The TGA decision is a devastating blow to Australia’s 2.8 million smokers who have been denied access to a much safer alternative to smoking,” says Colin Mendelsohn, a Tobacco Treatment Specialist in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at UNSW.

“E-cigarettes, which are being used almost exclusively by smokers and ex-smokers to reduce the harm of smoking, and they have helped millions of smokers to quit.

“After ten years of overseas experience, there is no evidence that they act as a gateway to smoking in young people, in fact they appear to be replacing smoking in young people rather than encouraging it.

“Fifty years of experience with snus, a high nicotine tobacco concentrate used in Sweden and Norway, and over 30 years of nicotine replacement therapy have not identified any serious concerns.

“The TGA decision appears to be driven more by ideology than science and will cost the lives of thousands of Australian smokers.”

Professor Mike Daube from Curtin University’s School of Health Sciences sides with the TGA.

“The TGA is Australia’s independent arbiter. Its decisions are based on evidence and the best science, not anecdote, lobbying and wishful thinking,” he said.

“This is a sound and sensible decision based on the best available evidence.”

Tobacco Treatment Specialist (TTS) Associate Professor Renee Bittoun agrees.

“I am strongly opposed to the introduction of electronic cigarettes. I believe them to be the cigarettes of the 21st Century,” she said.

“We do not need to introduce a new source of nicotine delivery device.”

Dr Michael Keane - an anaesthetist and an adjunct associate professor at Swinburne’s Centre for Human Psychopharmacology - says the regulators are relying on false connections.

“In regards to the TGA decision, ideology has egregiously trumped science, reason and harm reduction. The decision of the TGA in effect reverse normalises conventional cigarettes,” he said.

“The claim that e-cigarettes should be banned because they will normalise the much, much more harmful conventional cigarettes is as absurd as claiming that the use of condoms to practice safer sex should be banned because they ‘normalise’ unsafe sex.

“The TGA appears not to have undertaken an adequate critique of relevant studies regarding smoking uptake in teenagers after exposure to e-cigarettes.

“It appears that some of the data has been accepted too readily, confirming an ideological position. Significantly more compelling information seems to have been dismissed.”