Illegal Vapes Seized, Shielding Aussie Stores and Schools

More than 35 tonnes of vaping products suspected to contain nicotine have been detected at the border through a joint campaign between the Australian Border Force (ABF) and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) over the past month.

Known as Campaign OBELIA, officers from the ABF and the TGA targeted consignments being imported into Australia through air cargo and international mail across four states.

The products are alleged to be unlawfully imported prescription medicines. The labelling of the majority of these products falsely implied they were nicotine-free, yet subsequent testing at the TGA laboratories found they contain nicotine, which will result in their formal seizure.

Nicotine vaping products that are not imported or supplied under a TGA- pathway pose a significant public health risk, particularly to young Australians.

Of the more than 35 tonnes of vaping products, the TGA estimates that more than 92 per cent of these, or around 376,000 products, were unlawful. These represented more than $11 million in street value.

At least 68 per cent were disposable devices, the majority of which were brands previously identified as having products in breach of the minimum safety and quality standards for nicotine vaping products.

TGA laboratories tested 287 samples and 85 per cent were found to contain nicotine.

The ABF and TGA are working closely together, along with the states and territories, to target illicit vaping products under the current regulatory laws.

Enforcing the rules for importation and supply of nicotine vaping products as prescription only medicines has presented several challenges and concealment of nicotine in vapes by manufacturers is a significant issue.

The upcoming reforms to the regulation of vapes the Government announced in May seek to address these issues through stronger legislation, enforcement, education and support.

The reforms will make illicit vapes easier to detect and reduce opportunities for unlawful trade in these products, including by:

  • requiring licences and permits to import any therapeutic vape
  • regulating all vapes to stop the current practice of evading regulatory controls by concealing nicotine in vapes, and
  • heightening the advertising restrictions on all vapes.

Penalties for the illegal importation or supply of counterfeit or unapproved therapeutic goods is up to five years’ imprisonment and/or a financial penalty of up to $1.25 million.

These activities complement a wider set of actions being taken by the Government in line with the National Tobacco Strategy 2023-2030 to reduce rates of tobacco and e-cigarette use.

Quotes attributable to Minister Butler

“I applaud the TGA and the ABF for removing a huge number of vapes out of the Australian market and most importantly, out of the hands of young Australians.

“The enormous volume of suspected unlawful vaping products seized in this campaign alone demonstrates the challenges we face in tackling this issue-one we are tackling head-on.

“Vaping is a public health menace that is targeting young Australians. The reforms being introduced by the Albanese Government will be pivotal to decreasing vaping rates in Australia and the harm it represents, especially to our young people.”

Quotes attributable to Minister O’Neil

“We must do everything we can to disrupt the importation of unlawful nicotine vaping products that are so harmful to our community.

“While the ABF will continue to work with the TGA and other agencies to stop vapes at the border, reducing the amount of vapes with nicotine in the community requires a multi-faceted approach across all levels of government, involving both enforcement and better education around the harmful impact of vaping.”

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