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TGA’s vaping crackdown a sign of things to come


Anastasia Tsirtsakis


15/06/2023 1:43:11 PM

The medicines regulator issued infringement notices to four entities this week, totalling almost $600,000.

A young woman vaping.
In 2023, exclusive vaping is most common among Australians aged 18–24.

Four Sydney-based entities have received hefty fines for the alleged importation of 22 consignments of 379,600 unregistered vaping products.
 
The unapproved products were intercepted by the Australian Border Force, and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has since issued 38 infringement notices for the alleged offences, totalling $588,840. 
 
According to a release issued by the medicines regulator on 13 June, it is alleged that TSG Liverpool Street Pty Ltd, TSG Balmain Pty Ltd, TSG Chatswood Pty Ltd, and Jaradat & Sabbagh Group Pty Ltd attempted to import nicotine vaping products that ‘were not registered in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods and did not comply with a relevant standard’.
 
‘TGA laboratories tested samples of the imported IGET, GUNPOD and HQD branded disposable vapes and found they contained prohibited ingredients listed in the Therapeutic Goods Order (Standard for Nicotine Vaping Products) (TGO 110) Order 2021,’ the TGA said.
 
Based on advice from the medicines regulator, there are plans for the products to be seized and destroyed.

Professor Nick Zwar, Chair of the RACGP’s smoking cessation guidelines’ Expert Advisory Group, told newsGP it is welcome news to see that the law is being enforced.
 
But given how profitable nicotine vaping products can be, he questions whether the amount entities are being fined is adequate.
 
‘The penalties in the Australian context are quite small in monetary terms,’ Professor Zwar said.
 
‘There are international examples where the penalties would be much higher. In Korea, for example, it’s US$200,000 [AU$294,000] per offence, or something like that – vastly more than the amount here.
 
‘And so … there’s some doubt about whether the penalties are sufficient. It has been raised with Government that current penalties are pretty token.’
 
However, Professor Zwar is hopeful that this example is a sign of things to come, especially if the laws are further tightened.
 
‘I think we will see more of it,’ he said.
 
‘One of the things the new regulations will do, and it doesn’t apply in this instance as these were nicotine vaping products, but there’s a lot of products coming into the country that don’t have nicotine on the label, but when they’re analysed – and the University of Wollongong has done this work, as well as others – over 80% have nicotine in them.
 
‘So, the fact that currently the only way of proving that is to send off the products for analysis in a laboratory makes enforcement very difficult. But when it will be illegal to import any vaping product, labelled nicotine or not, unless it’s coming in under the medical access framework, that will make the job of Border Force easier because anything that’s a vaping product and is not coming in medically must be coming in illegally.
 
‘Their job will still be difficult though because these products are small, they’re easy to conceal and people might simply try to smuggle them in, and detection of that is going to be a challenge. But at least the law, should they get it through … will be easier for Border Force to be clear about what they can and can’t seize.’
 
The move follows Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler’s announcement last month that the Government will be taking strong action to combat Australia’s black market for unlawful nicotine vaping products.
 
In addition to a $63 million advertising campaign designed to discourage vaping and smoking, the Federal Government said it would work with states and territories to:

  • stop the importation of non-prescription vapes
  • increase the minimum quality standards for vapes, including by restricting flavours, colours, and other ingredients
  • require pharmaceutical-like packaging
  • reduce the allowed nicotine concentrations and volumes
  • ban all single use, disposable vapes.
With the use of unregulated nicotine vaping products a growing concern for Australia, particularly among young people, the Government’s announcement in May was welcomed by both Professor Zwar and RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins.
 
According to recently published research conducted by Cancer Council Victoria for the Department of Health and Aged Care, in 2023 exclusive vaping is most common among 18–24-year-olds, and least common among those aged 50 and over.
 
Using these products is associated with a number of health risks, including nicotine addiction and poisoning, exposure to toxins, and serious injuries and burns.
 
As part of efforts to address the concerning trend, the TGA is encouraging the reporting of suspected non-compliant advertising of nicotine vaping products.
 
‘If you suspect non-compliance in relation to therapeutic goods, you can report illegal or questionable practices online to the TGA,’ the medicines regulator said.
 
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