Vapers targeted in Queensland Health crackdown

HEALTH authorities are targeting people who vape as an alternative to smoking harmful tobacco.

Threatening letters have been sent to people from Queensland Health, stating products have been seized at the border along with warnings that importing liquid containing nicotine could attract a $10,000 fine.

It's a hot issue for some in the medical profession who are calling for nicotine liquid used in electronic cigarettes to legalised - an idea opposed by Queensland Health.

Vaping is the practice of inhaling and exhaling vapour created by an electronic cigarette, filled with flavoured liquid. Not all liquids contain nicotine.

In Queensland, nicotine liquid is considered a poison and only those with a prescription, or licence, are legally entitled to possess the product.

The Sunshine State was the first state in Australia to include electronic cigarettes in tobacco cigarettes laws, in 2015.

Associate Professor in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales Dr Colin Mendelsohn is scathing about the Queensland Health approach.

He said vaping using nicotine liquid was an important tool for people to quit smoking more harmful tobacco and the products should be made available to encourage people to give up smoking.


Camira mum-of-three Storm Maxwell runs a vaping meet up group and owns a business producing nicotine-free liquid for electronic cigarettes. An ex-smoker herself, Storm can't understand why Queensland Health is spending time and money targeting vapers.
Camira mum-of-three Storm Maxwell runs a vaping meet up group and owns a business producing nicotine-free liquid for electronic cigarettes. An ex-smoker herself, Storm can't understand why Queensland Health is spending time and money targeting vapers. Cordell Richardson

"People who are trying to quit smoking are being frightened by Queensland Health," Dr Mendelsohn, who is also chairman of the charity Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association and a prominent campaigner on the issue, said.

"Vaping is a life-saving harm reduction option for people who are addicted and can't quit."

Vaping has been accepted in other countries, including New Zealand where nicotine liquid was legalised in May. 

Across Australia, the laws and fines differ across states with New South Wales the least harsh.

"Nicotine is not the enemy, combustible tobacco is," Dr Mendelsohn said.

"I have seen so many people unable to quit and repeatedly come back. They've tried the Champix (stop smoking aid tablets), they've tried patches and nothing works. This works.

"If you can help a person quit smoking that's the most important health intervention they'll ever have in your life."

In 2016 there were 450,000 adult daily smokers in the state, according to Queensland Health, representing 12% of the population.

Since 1998, Queensland Health has launched a large number of campaigns to encourage people to quit.



A Queensland Health spokesperson said that e-cigarettes presented a risk and could encourage people, particularly young people, to take up smoking or could make smoking appear more socially acceptable.  

"People seeking to access unapproved products containing liquid nicotine for therapeutic use can only do so under the Special Access Scheme or the Personal Importation Scheme of the Therapeutic Goods Administration," the spokesperson said. 

"Under these schemes, the prescribing doctor would need to follow requirements prescribed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration." 

Queensland Health's concerns are shared by Australia's peak medical body, the Australian Medical Association.

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said electronic cigarettes had the potential to normalise smoking without addressing the issue that "tobacco smoking has significan health consequences".

"The products that are used sometimes contain harmful carcinogens, and we do not have the long-term data about the risk profile of them. We know that there are carcinogens of at least certain toxicity and the ultimate effect has yet to be proven," Dr Bartone said.

"When the evidence comes through and it can be shown to be a therapeutic aid to cessation from smoking, that's when we will sit down and significantly look at our position and move in line with the evidence that's presented."

Anyone found to be in unlawful possession and use of liquid nicotine in Queensland could face a maximum penalty of $10,400.


Storm Maxwell, 35, Camira resident
Storm Maxwell, 35, Camira resident Cordell Richardson

'Why are they making our lives miserable?': Mum feels targeted

MUM Storm Maxwell can't understand why Queensland Health is targeting vapers.

She runs a business producing nicotine-free liquid for electronic cigarettes and also hosts meet ups for the vaping community.

The 35-year-old Camira mum of three used to be a heavy smoker.

When her grandmother died from emphysema, Storm decided to give the habit up.

She used an electronic cigarette as a stop smoking aid and has been tobacco free ever since.

"I had been smoking since I was 19," Storm said.

"It started with 20 cigarettes a week and by the time I quit, that was up to 40 a day."

Even though Storm isn't doing anything illegal, she feels targeted.

"I honestly don't know why they are so keen on making our lives miserable," she said.

A letter sent by Queensland Health to a vaper.
A letter sent by Queensland Health to a vaper.

In 2016, a vape meet up at Rocklea was cancelled when Storm was told the police intended to raid the meeting.

More than 100 people regularly attended the meetings.

Since then, the attention on the illegal use of nicotine has ramped up, Storm said, and members of her group are afraid of being targeted.

"We don't sell or promote the use of products with nicotine," Storm said.

"In our group, we try to make sure people understand the rules.

"The government wants people to stop smoking and we've found a safe way to do it."

There are 136 inspectors working for Queensland Health tracking the importation and illegal sale of drugs and poisons, including nicotine.

The threatening letters sent by Queensland Health have been received by people Storm knows.

In one letter, shared with the QT, Queensland Health says it has seized products imported online from New Zealand.

The specific liquid in this instance was menthol flavoured liquid, containing 3mg of nicotine, and an apple flavoured liquid also containing 3mg of nicotine.

"A sample of the products seized will be submitted to Queensland Health Forensic Scientific Services for analysis," the letter reads.

"You have the opportunity to supply evidence (in writing within 7 days) to this office, that you have an endorsement (for example a licence issued to you by Queensland Health) under the regulation to lawfully obtain and possess this substance in Queensland."

Do you need help quitting? 

Visit Queensland Health's QUIT HQ website for more information or call QUIT line on 13 7848.