“Is it banned? Is it illegal?”: Navigating Western Australia's regulatory environment for e-cigarettes
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Background: In Australia, there is no Federal legislation that directly applies to e-cigarettes, instead, several existing laws relating to poisons, therapeutic goods and tobacco control apply. Across all Australian States and Territories, it is illegal to sell nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, however, users can legally import nicotine-containing vaporisers through the Personal Importation Scheme. Western Australia differs from other Australian States and Territories in that products which resemble tobacco products are banned, effectively prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes. This study aimed to understand how e-cigarette users navigate Western Australia's regulatory environment to access vaping products and the health and safety issues encountered.
Methods: Working from a constructionist epistemology and a symbolic interaction framework, in-depth interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 37 current (89%) and former (11%) adult vapers (70% male, mean age of 32.5). Data was analysed via thematic analysis.
Results: Vape retailers were said to be circumventing Western Australia's e-cigarette restrictions by selling the components of ‘open system’ devices that do not resemble a tobacco product when sold individually. Participants were unsure of the legality of importing, accessing and using nicotine and e-cigarettes, however, the majority continued to use nicotine-containing vaporisers and implemented strategies in an attempt to avoid detection and safeguard their health. The internet facilitated access to desired products, information on health and safety, and discussions of personal experiences.
Conclusions: The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration has recently (21 December 2020) confirmed that from 1 October 2021 smokers who have tried quitting with other approved cessation pharmacotherapies will be required to obtain a prescription for nicotine-containing vaporiser products from a registered medical practitioner. The results of this study suggest further consideration of regulatory measures are however required to support the different characteristics of vapers and to mitigate the health and safety concerns experienced by e-cigarette users.
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