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 have emerged.

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

Are there risks with using e-cigarettes?

There is emerging evidence that, if smokers switch completely to e‑cigarettes, these products pose less health risks to them than smoked tobacco. Smoking tobacco, even at a reduced level, remains harmful for smokers.

Because of a lack of evidence, we don’t understand the long-term impact of e-cigarettes on users and non-users. Short-term use has been associated with mild adverse effects such as headaches, dry mouth or throat, throat or mouth irritation.

Some e-cigarettes contain nicotine. Nicotine is a widely used addictive substance, which has a psychoactive effect and can be lethal in large quantities.

What is the Ministry of Health's advice on using e-cigarettes for stopping smoking?

Under the Medicines Act, only medicines approved by Medsafe can be sold for smoking cessation support in New Zealand. At this time, no company has met the requirements under that Act to have an e‑cigarette approved to support smokers to quit.

The Ministry of Health has been monitoring the evidence on the role of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation. 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. Although e-cigarettes may be helpful, further studies are required to reach conclusive results.

Therefore the Ministry does not have enough evidence to confidently recommend these products as a smoking cessation tool.

In the meantime, the Ministry advises smokers to use approved smoking cessation medicines, such as NRT, to stop smoking and to seek behavioural support from stop-smoking services, such as Quitline.

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

People who choose to use e-cigarettes (to vape), should aim to stop smoking completely to reduce the harm from smoking. Ideally, people would eventually stop vaping as well.

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 legislation.govt.nz 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.

Information for health care workers

Use this information pamphlet when talking with patients in more detail about electronic cigarettes.

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