Advice on the use of e-cigarettes

What are electronic cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes – or e-cigarettes – are electrical devices that mimic real cigarettes by producing a vapour by heating a solution (e-liquid), which the user inhales or vapes. E-liquid is available with or without nicotine, and usually contains propylene glycol and flavouring agents. Earlier on, many e-cigarettes looked like traditional tobacco cigarettes but a range of other product designs are emerging.

A few e-cigarettes do not use electronics but instead use an aerosol-delivering system.

Are there risks with using e-cigarettes?

Nicotine is derived from tobacco plants and is a psychoactive and addictive chemical that in excessive amounts can be lethal.

E-cigarette products vary from brand to brand. Because labelling can be inconsistent or inaccurate, users can’t be sure of the ingredients of a particular product or how much nicotine a product really contains. With no production standards, some e-cigarette products have been found to contain other harmful substances or be hazardous in other ways (for example by overheating the e-liquid or using flavours untested for inhaling into the lungs). Some e-cigarettes allow users to self-prepare cartridges with e-liquid and flavours, which may increases the risk of accidental poisoning, especially for children if containers are not stored safety or with approved child proof lids.

Will electronic cigarettes help me stop smoking?

A 2014 Cochrane review on the use of electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation and reduction found that the quality of the evidence is overall low and only based on two studies. Further studies are therefore required to reach conclusive results. The Ministry of Health is therefore waiting for stronger evidence.

At this time, no company has applied under the Medicines Act to register an e-cigarette to support smokers to quit.

What is WHO’s advice on using e-cigarettes?

On 27 August 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report for the 6th Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control held on 13-18 October 2014 in Moscow. It sets out a number of issues and risks associated with e-cigarettes, and recommends options for regulating the products.

You can find this report Electronic nicotine delivery systems (PDF, 228KB) on the WHO website.

Among other conclusions, the document found there was currently insufficient evidence to conclude that e-cigarettes help users quit smoking or not. Therefore, WHO currently recommends that smokers should first be encouraged to quit smoking by using a combination of already approved treatments.

According to the WHO, existing evidence shows that e-cigarette aerosol is not merely "water vapour" as is often claimed in the marketing of these products. While they are likely to be less toxic than conventional cigarettes, e-cigarette use poses threats to adolescents and foetuses of pregnant mothers using these devices.

What is the Ministry of Health's advice on e-cigarettes?

Use approved NRT products or smoking cessation medicines to stop smoking.

Only approved medicines can be sold for smoking cessation support in New Zealand. No company has applied to register (through Medsafe) their e-cigarette for smoking cessation purposes and therefore there are no e-cigarettes in New Zealand approved for smoking cessation purposes.

There is not enough evidence to be able to recommend e-cigarettes as an aid to quit smoking (see Will electronic cigarettes help me stop smoking?).

While there is some evidence that the short-term use of e-cigarettes is less harmful than cigarette smoking, we do not know anything of the impacts of long-term use.

The Ministry continues to assess new evidence as it arises, but in the meantime smokers should continue to use approved smoking cessation aids, such as patches, lozenges and gum, to help them quit smoking.

Talk to your health professional about what medication is best for you.

Only through quitting will you no longer be exposed to the harmful effects of smoking. Cutting back the number of cigarettes you smoke does not remove the harms of smoking.

Can you use an e-cigarette in smoke-free places?

The use of e-cigarettes in smoke-free places is not prohibited by the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990. However, individual organisations can ban the use of e-cigarettes as part of their own smoke-free policies. The Ministry encourages people to avoid using e-cigarettes in areas where smoking is not permitted.

What is the current legislation of e-cigarettes?

The Medicines Act 1981 (Medicines Act) and the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 (SFEA) regulate the sale, advertising and use of e-cigarettes and the liquids used in e-cigarettes.

It is illegal to sell an e-cigarette in New Zealand (with or without nicotine) while making a therapeutic claim (eg, claims to help smokers quit) but the product has not been approved for therapeutic use.

The Medicines Act regulates medicines and nicotine is a scheduled substance. No nicotine-containing e-cigarettes have been put forward for approval under the Medicines Act and there are currently no e-cigarettes (nor e-liquid) approved for therapeutic purposes and smoking cessation support. Only approved medicines can be advertised and sold. It is also illegal to advertise an overseas website where people can purchase nicotine-containing e-cigarettes or e-liquids.

Nicotine-containing e-cigarette products are tobacco products if they are manufactured from tobacco. The SFEA regulates the sale, supply and advertising of tobacco products.

The SFEA specifically prohibits the sale of tobacco products for other oral use (other than smoking). The use of tobacco-derived nicotine-containing e-cigarette falls within this definition and the sale of these products are prohibited.

Finally, the SFEA provides that products that look like tobacco products (toy tobacco products) and that can be used to simulate smoking, must not be sold to persons under the age of 18. Apart from this requirement, nicotine-free e-cigarettes can be sold freely in New Zealand.

Under The Medicines Act and the SFEA, people can import nicotine-containing e-cigarette products for their own use only. This is generally considered to be up to a 3 months' supply. These imported products cannot be supplied, sold or be given away to anyone else.

What are the requirements for importers and retailers of e-cigarettes?

Seek independent advice from your legal advisor for your specific circumstances.

The regulation of e-cigarettes (including types marketed as electronic shisha, electronic hookahs, pens or vapes etc.) in New Zealand comes primarily under the Medicines Act 1981 and the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 and its Regulations. Both acts are available on the website:

Note that it is prohibited:

  • under the Medicines Act 1981 to advertise, sell and distribute nicotine-free and nicotine-containing e-cigarettes for therapeutic purposes without these products being approved by Medsafe
  • under the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 to advertise, sell and distribute e-cigarettes that contain nicotine derived from tobacco, including nicotine-containing e-liquids
  • under the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 to sell, supply and distribute e-cigarettes which look like a tobacco product (toy tobacco product) to people under 18 years of age.

Other legislation may also apply to the advertising, selling and distribution of e-cigarettes depending on the circumstances. They include the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993, Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, and the Customs and Excise Act 1996.

If you have any doubts about your legal obligations as an importer or a retailer of e-cigarettes, you should seek independent legal advice.

It is the manufactures’, importers’ and retailers’ responsibility to ensure compliance with all legislative requirements.

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