Calls for import ban on liquid nicotine amid surge in illegal vape sales 

An influx of illegal single-use vape products are being sold online and in tobacco shops across Australialeading smoking cessation group Quit to push for tougher import legislation. 

Young smokers seem drawn to the devices by their discreet form factor and ease of use. Photo: Brandon Davis

The devices, commonly known as ‘Cuvies’ or ‘Stigs’, are discreet, highly pocketable and feature colourful designs and packaging. 

More than 26,000 of the devices have been seized by NSW Health inspectors since January, with the amount still in circulation across Australia estimated to be considerably higher. 

Quit Victoria representative Imogen Baratta says the number of devices reaching Australian shores is troubling. 

It’s a symptom of inadequate legislation on nicotine imports,” she says. “These devices look like toys – they’re flavoured like confectionary. It’s no surprise they appeal so highly to young people.” 

Nicotine vapes remain legal in Australia with a doctor’s prescription, but the Therapeutic Goods Association fears the potential for nicotine e-cigarette use to lead to nicotine addiction and tobacco use, particularly among adolescents, outweighs its benefit as a smoking cessation strategy. 

Victoria’s state government has been criticised previously for its insufficient regulation of nicotine sales. A study conducted by La Trobe University found that almost half of the retailers selling tobacco products in a regional Victorian area were likely operating with no formal government oversight. 

“Especially in Victoria, our habit of insufficient regulation is a major contributor to why these products are in the hands of so many Australians,” Ms Baratta says. 

A Melbourne tobacco shop owner, whom Dscribe has decided not to name, confirms the process of acquiring and selling the devices is far from difficult. 

We order them wholesale – they asked for a re-sale license and accepted an old one from before the laws changed to say you needed a prescription,” the tobacconist says“We’ve sold them for months and haven’t had one problem. 

The devices aren’t only being sold to stores. They can be shipped directly to a buyer’s door via the manufacturer’s website, in addition to a slew of third-party vendors. The shop owner says it’s like “buying off of eBay”. 

It’s mostly young people who buy them. Some of them come in every two, three days to get a new one. They try a different flavour every time,” he says.

A nationwide import ban on nicotine vapes was set to be introduced in January but, following the TGA’s decision for e-cigarettes to require a medical prescription, has been withdrawn indefinitely.  

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