E-cigarettes to be regulated as consumer products

29 March 2017: The Government is planning to change the law regulating e-cigarettes. These changes need to go through Parliament before they can take effect. This will likely happen from the middle of 2018 at the earliest.

The proposed changes are to:

  • legalise the sale and supply of nicotine e-cigarettes and e-liquid as consumer products
  • regulate nicotine and non-nicotine e-cigarettes and e-liquid as follows:
    • prohibit sale, and supply in a public place, to under 18 year olds
    • restrict sale via vending machines to R18 settings
    • allow all retailers to display e-cigarettes and e-liquid at point-of-sale
    • allow R18 retail settings to display e-cigarettes and e-liquid in-store (including window display), promote products on the outside of the store, and offer discounts, free samples, loyalty awards etc.
    • prohibit broader advertising, e.g. billboards, radio, TV, Internet (the rules above will apply to retailers’ websites)
    • prohibit vaping in workplaces and other areas where smoking is not allowed under the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 (SFEA)
    • set requirements for product safety (e.g. nicotine concentration, child-resistant closures etc.)

In addition to these changes, a regulatory framework will be developed to provide a pathway for emerging tobacco and nicotine-delivery products to be regulated as consumer products in future.

View past e-cigarette consultations and cabinet papers.

Electronic cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) are electrical devices that heat a solution (or e-liquid), which produces a vapour that the user inhales or ‘vapes’. The ingredients of the liquid may vary, but currently most e-liquids contain propylene glycol and flavouring agents. Some e-liquids contain nicotine.

E-cigarettes come in a range of styles, from devices that look similar to traditional cigarettes (first generation or cig-a-like) to refillable-cartridge ‘tank’ systems (second generation) to highly advanced appliances with larger batteries that allow the power to be adjusted to meet an individual’s specific vapour requirements (third generation).

Second and third generation e-cigarettes generally deliver more nicotine than first generation e‑cigarettes.

Risks with using e-cigarettes

There is evidence that e-cigarettes pose fewer health risks to smokers who switch completely from tobacco smoking to e-cigarette use. Tobacco smoking, even at a reduced level, remains harmful.

Short-term use of e-cigarettes has been associated with mild adverse effects such as headaches, dry mouth or throat, and throat or mouth irritation. The health risks associated with the long-term use of e-cigarettes are unknown. It is only known that the risks of smoking are likely to be much greater.

Some e-liquids contain nicotine. For smokers, the nicotine in e-cigarettes poses little danger, however, in excessive amounts it can be lethal, especially for children. Nicotine products should be kept out of reach of others, particularly children.

Use of e-cigarettes for stopping smoking

There is a good rationale for people to use e-cigarettes to help them stop smoking as e‑cigarettes can provide nicotine, which is what people desire from smoking. 

Research into the effectiveness of e-cigarettes in smoking cessation is growing, but the findings from these studies are somewhat mixed and the quality of the evidence is low overall. This is an active area of research and more findings will become available over the next few years.

At this stage, the Ministry of Health does not have enough evidence to recommend e-cigarettes confidently as a smoking-cessation tool. Smokers should use approved smoking-cessation medicines, such as NRT, to support them to stop smoking and seek behavioural support from stop-smoking services.

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

Legislation covering e-cigarettes

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

Nicotine is a scheduled substance under the Medicines Act. It is illegal to sell an e-cigarette (with or without nicotine) while making a therapeutic claim (e.g. claims to help smokers quit), unless the product has been approved for that purpose by Medsafe. To-date, no company has applied to have an e-cigarette approved as a stop-smoking medicine.

Nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and e-liquid are tobacco products, regulated under the SFEA, if they are manufactured from tobacco.

The SFEA prohibits the sale of tobacco products for oral use (other than smoking). Products containing nicotine derived from tobacco fall within this definition and the sale of these products is prohibited.

In addition, products that look like a tobacco product or smoking pipe and can be used to simulate smoking (toy tobacco products) cannot be sold to a person under 18 years, even if they do not contain nicotine.

People can import up to three months’ supply of nicotine-containing products for their own use, but cannot sell or supply these products to anyone else.

Vaping 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 smokefree policies.

Requirements for importers and retailers of e-cigarettes

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

E-cigarettes are regulated primarily under the Medicines Act 1981 and the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990. 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 and non-nicotine e‑cigarettes for a therapeutic purpose unless these products have been approved by Medsafe
  • under the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 to advertise, sell and distribute e-cigarettes and e‑liquid that contain nicotine derived from tobacco
  • 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 the age of 18 years.

Other legislation may also apply to the advertising, selling and distribution of e-cigarettes depending on the circumstances. This includes the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993, the 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 responsibility of manufacturers, importers and retailers to ensure compliance with all legislative requirements.

Past consultations

Past cabinet papers



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