E-cigarette consultation opens

Media release

02 August 2016
Kevin McCarthy, senior media advisor, 021 832 459

The Ministry of Health has today opened consultation on proposals to adjust the legal status of e-cigarettes.

A consultation document proposes that all e-cigarettes (with and without nicotine) are made available for sale and supply lawfully in New Zealand, but that they are subject to some of the same restrictions as legal, smoked tobacco products.

The proposal, which would require legislative change, would mean restricting the sale of e-cigarettes to people 18 and over, that advertising of e-cigarettes is restricted, and that the use of e-cigarettes is prohibited in smoke-free places.

The Ministry of Health’s spokesman, Professor Hayden McRobbie, says e-cigarettes are an evolving product and regulators around the world have been considering how best to regulate their use.

“Evidence around the risks and benefits of e-cigarettes is not yet conclusive. But it is time now to develop regulations that maximise the potential benefits of e-cigarettes and minimise any risks, not only to smokers but also the wider population.”

The consultation will also look at whether other controls for smoked tobacco products should apply to e-cigarettes, and how to enhance the quality and safety of e-cigarettes.

Professor McRobbie says it is important that all groups and individuals with an interest in e-cigarettes take this opportunity to contribute to the consultation.

The consultation runs until 5 pm 12 September, 2016.

For further information, contact:  Ministry of Health senior media advisor Kevin McCarthy, 021 832 459.

Question and Answers

What is an e-cigarette?

E-cigarettes are electrical devices that mimic smoked tobacco products but produce a vapour (rather than smoke) by heating a solution (e-liquid) which the user then inhales or vapes.

What is the purpose of this consultation?

The Ministry of Health is consulting publicly on proposals to adjust the legal status of e-cigarettes, allowing their availability with appropriate controls.

The Ministry is proposing that regulations are developed that maximise the potential benefits of e-cigarettes and minimise the associated risks, not only to smokers but also the wider population.

What does the current law cover regarding e-cigarettes?

The Medicines Act 1981 and the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 regulate the sale, advertising and use of e-cigarettes and the liquids used in e-cigarettes.
Under the Medicines Act 1981, it is illegal to sell and supply

  • a product containing nicotine, which has not been approved by Medsafe (this is a breach of the Medicines Act, which controls nicotine as a scheduled medicine)
  • an e-cigarette in New Zealand (with or without nicotine) while making a therapeutic claim (e.g. claims to help smokers quit).

Under the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 there are two provisions that capture e-cigarettes. It is unlawful to sell an e-cigarette in New Zealand:

  • if it contains nicotine that is manufactured from tobacco
  • to a person under 18 if it looks like a tobacco product or smoking pipe and can be used to simulate smoking.

Due to a lack of clarity on the legal position of e-cigarettes (including the lack of clarity of legal definitions and what constitutes adequate evidence of a breach of the law) the Ministry has been unable to carry out enforcement actions against retailers.

What is happening in practice?

Non-nicotine e-cigarettes are freely available to all age groups across New Zealand with no controls (except if they look like a tobacco product and can be used to simulate smoking – then they are R18).

E-cigarettes containing nicotine manufactured from tobacco are not legally able to be sold in New Zealand, but in practice are being sold.

E-cigarettes, with or without nicotine are not routinely tested for quality and safety.  There are no health and safety or quality controls for these products and no restrictions on the nicotine content.

There are also no requirements to label the product, to include health warnings about the potential risks or to provide child-proof containers.

What issues do e-cigarettes pose for regulators?

The Ministry is seeking feedback on a range of issues that relate to e-cigarettes as follows:

  • Currently the sale and supply of nicotine e-cigarettes are prohibited while smoked tobacco, which is more harmful for users, can be sold legally.
  • Users can obtain nicotine e-cigarettes, a potentially addictive product, through importation and illegal, local sales.
  • Suggestions that the availability of these products could undermine tobacco control initiatives.
  • Evidence around the risks and benefits of e-cigarettes is evolving and is not yet conclusive. There is a lack of clarity about long-term product safety, and health risks to users and non-users.
  • There is ongoing scientific debate about whether e-cigarettes may be another tool for smokers to quit.
  • At the same time, there is general scientific consensus that the use of e-cigarettes is less harmful for smokers if they completely switch.

What might that mean in reality?

Amendments to the Smokefree Environments Act to make nicotine e-cigarettes a lawful product to be treated in the same way as legal smoked tobacco so that:

  • sale is restricted to people 18 and over
  • advertising of e-cigarettes is restricted
  • the use of e-cigarettes is prohibited in smoke-free places.

The consultation will also seek views on whether other controls used for smoked tobacco products are needed, such as health warnings, labels, retail display and taxes and include how best to regulate for product safety.

Will you change the Medicines Act as well?

There are no proposals to change the Medicines Act.

Only approved medicines can be sold for smoking cessation support in New Zealand.  At this time no company has met the requirements under the Medicines Act 1981 to have an e-cigarette approved to support smokers to quit.

What will happen after the consultation?

The Ministry of Health will report back to Government in the latter part of 2016 with advice on precise regulatory options taking into account information received from the consultation.

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