Electronic cigarettes in Western Australia

Electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes – also known as 'vapes') are battery-powered devices which heat a liquid containing chemicals and flavouring into an aerosol which is inhaled through a mouthpiece, and then exhaled by the user as a fine particulate smoke.

The liquid is often called ‘e-liquid’, ‘e-juice’, or ‘vape juice’ and is intended to deliver chemicals directly to the lungs.

The devices come in many shapes and sizes, and some have mimicked traditional tobacco cigarettes, cigars or pipes in appearance. Others may look like everyday items such as pens, highlighters or USB memory sticks.

What is in an e-cigarette?

E-cigarettes can contain water, flavours, solvents and nicotine. Chemicals found in e-cigarettes, e-liquids, and the aerosol smoke or “vapour” that they generate include: very fine particles; heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead; volatile organic compounds such as benzene, which is found in car exhaust; and poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as naphthalene, found in mothballs. All of these are known to be toxic, including chemicals that can cause cancer.

Many e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is the highly addictive and poisonous chemical also found in tobacco. Even though an e-cigarette’s packaging might say it is nicotine-free, testing has shown that many e-cigarettes sold in Australia are labelled incorrectly and in fact do contain nicotine.

E-liquids can come in thousands of different flavours, such as tobacco, confectionary, fruit and other flavours.

Legal status of e-cigarettes

It is illegal to sell, supply or possess an e-cigarette or any liquid that contains nicotine in Australia without a doctor’s prescription. Nicotine is a dangerous poison, even in small quantities, and it is strictly regulated in WA under the Medicines and Poisons Act 2014 (external site).

In Western Australia, products that resemble tobacco products, including e-cigarette devices, whether or not they contain nicotine, cannot be sold by tobacco or general retailers under the Tobacco Products Control Act 2006 (external site).

The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has announced changes to be operational from 1 October 2021 to the national laws regulating imports of nicotine products (including nicotine e-cigarettes, nicotine pods and liquid nicotine) that have not been approved for use in Australia.

Nicotine products can only be prescribed by a registered medical practitioner (or other authorised prescriber) and may only be dispensed by a registered pharmacy. An e-cigarette device designed and intended for delivery of nicotine may be supplied by a registered pharmacy, for use with prescribed nicotine products, as part of a medically supervised smoking cessation program.

For more information about accessing unapproved products, please visit the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) website (external site).

Products that resemble tobacco products

In accordance with the Tobacco Products Control Act 2006, a person must not sell any food, toy or other product that is not a tobacco product but is designed to resemble a tobacco product or package.

In a Western Australian Supreme Court decision on 10 April 2014 e-cigarettes were found to resemble a tobacco product and the seller of these e-cigarettes was convicted of this offence.

The Seller subsequently made application to the Supreme Court to appeal the decision. The appeal was unanimously dismissed in a decision handed down by the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Western Australia on 10 March 2016.

The Court decision highlights that products that resemble tobacco products, regardless of whether they contain nicotine or not, cannot be sold in WA by tobacco or general retailers and it is an offence under the Tobacco Products Control Act 2006 to sell these products.

Electronic cigarettes in public areas

E-cigarettes are relatively new products and the long-term safety and health effects associated with their use and exposure to second-hand vapour are still unknown.

E-cigarettes have recently been the cause of disputes in some public places due to the confusion and disturbance they may cause if used in areas where smoking is not allowed.

Owners/managers may choose to implement a policy applying to their premises which prohibits the use of e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited.

Possible wording for such a policy:

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and other personal vaporisers for delivery of nicotine or other substances are not permitted to be used in any area where smoking is restricted.

Last reviewed: 14-10-2021
Produced by

Tobacco Control Branch