The Misuse of the Precautionary Principle in Justifying Australia's Ban on the Sale of Nicotine Vaping Products

Nicotine Tob Res. 2021 Jan 7;23(1):14-20. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntaa173.


In Australia, the precautionary principle has been used to justify an effective sales ban on nicotine vaping products (NVPs) by requiring all NVPs to be approved as medicines. Australia's policy is out of step with other English-speaking countries, which allow the sale of NVPs as consumer products. We provide a brief history of the precautionary principle, discuss guidelines on how it should be used, and examine key documents from Australian policy debates to describe how the precautionary principle has been misapplied in justifying Australian NVP policy. We argue that the precautionary principle has been inappropriately applied to NVP regulation in Australia in that it has: failed to consider the regulation of similar products, imposed regulations that are disproportionate to the level of risk, failed to assess the costs of its regulatory approach, and failed to undertake a cost/benefit analysis of a range of available regulatory options. Australian policy illustrates the risks of regulating nicotine products in isolation rather than considering NVPs as falling on a continuum of harmful nicotine products. Implications: The precautionary principle has been misapplied to NVP regulation in Australia. We recommend that the precautionary principle be used in a way that regulates nicotine products in proportion to their risks.

MeSH terms

  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Commerce / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Policy / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Vaping / epidemiology
  • Vaping / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Vaping / psychology*