Legal Loophole Allowing Deadly Chemical To Be Imported Into Australia

A legal loophole is allowing a dangerous chemical to flow into Australia with deadly consequences.

Liquid nicotine for e-cigarettes can't be imported without a prescription, but a 10 News First special investigation has revealed authorities are letting it through unchecked.

The deadly chemical is a by-product of the vaping craze and it can be lethal.

In June last year, a Victorian Toddler identified only as Baby J died after ingesting liquid nicotine.

READ MORE: Toddler's Tragic Death Sparks Divisive Liquid Nicotine Debate

Baby J’s mother had imported it from the US.

The 18-month-old child drank it, suffered severe brain injury and died two weeks later.

Health authorities are warning it could happen again.

liquid nicotine
Many 'vape juices' have appealing flavours like grape or vanilla, with many Australian users injecting liquid nicotine into the bottles. Photo: Getty.

“We know that liquid nicotine is toxic. We know that it’s poison,” Alcohol and Drug Foundation spokesperson Melinda Lucas said.

Dr Margie Danchin, a paediatrician at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital, painted a grim picture of the damage liquid nicotine can cause when ingested.

“It can go to the brain and cause seizures and damage to the brain and it can go to the heart and it can cause cardiac arrest and of course death in a very young child,” she said.

“They are often in small brightly packaged bottles with pictures of fruit, they might be scented so they're very appealing to a toddler."

In Australia, you need a prescription to buy liquid nicotine for an e-cigarette, but people get around the law by purchasing it online.

READ MORE: Quitting Aid Or Slippery Slope? Experts Divided Over Health Risks Of Vaping

A source close to 10 News First ordered a product from a popular vaping website. It arrived four days later from the United States.

Photo: GETTY

The Australian Border Force says nicotine isn't covered by customs regulations, so there's no requirement for people to get an import permit.

That’s cause for concern, according to Quit Victoria’s Dr Sarah White.

“People are able to buy it and have it sent to Australian addresses simply by filling in a box in a form online,” she said.

Quit Victoria is also concerned about nicotine products illegally being sold in Australia at vaping shops.

A recent study found six out of 10 products contained nicotine.

“Some of these liquids had chemicals that you find in insecticide and herbicides, some of them actually had a metabolite you find in animal faeces,” she said.

READ MORE: Teen Issues Warning After Horror Vaping Experience

“An unknown liquid with unknown components for heaven’s sake could be made in a bucket in a backyard.”

In a statement, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the matter had been referred to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for investigation as a priority.

“In line with the Government’s precautionary approach to e-cigarettes, nicotine for use in e-cigarettes cannot be commercially supplied in Australia under state and territory poisons legislation," he said.

"Enforcement of these particular laws are a matter for the states and territories.”

E-cigarettes are typically used by people trying to stop smoking.

The Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association is a registered health promotion charity, set up using money from e-cigarette companies.

"We know that e-cigarettes are at least 95 per cent safer than smoking. We know they're effective and yet we prevent people from using them in Australia," said Colin Mendelsohn, ATHRA spokesperson.

But that claim is refuted by health experts, including Victorian Department of Health and Human Services Chief Preventive Health Officer Dr Bruce Bolam.

"While they're likely to be much less harmful than smoking cigarettes they're certainly not free from danger," he said.

"We need to see a nationally consistent approach to labelling and packaging of all e-liquids."