Online retailers have just been fined for claiming e-cigarettes don't have harmful toxins

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Three online retailers have been convicted of breaching Australian consumer law by claiming that e-cigarettes don’t have harmful carcinogens and toxins.

The ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) understands this is the first time a regulator anywhere in the world has successfully taken action for false and misleading claims about the presence of carcinogens in e-cigarettes.

The retailers are Joystick Company Pty Ltd (Joystick), Social-Lites Pty Ltd (Social-Lites) and Elusion Australia Limited (in liquidation) (Elusion).

The use of e-cigarettes is being debated globally, with some saying they help people quit smoking and others sayying they are a danger to health.

However, in this case independent testing commissioned by the ACCC identified formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein in the products of Joystick, Social-Lites and Elusion, as well as acetone in Social-Lites’ products.

In separate proceedings against each of these companies, the Federal Court found that Joystick, Social-Lites and Elusion contravened the consumer law by making representations that their products did not contain harmful carcinogens and toxins when this was not the case.

The court also found that the directors of Joystick and Elusion, and the CEO of Social-Lites, were knowingly concerned in the contravening conduct of their respective companies.

The Federal Court ordered penalties of:

  • $50,000 for Joystick and its director $10,000;
  • $50,000 for Social-Lites and its CEO $10,000;
  • $40,000 for Elusion and its director $15,000.

“Consumers were led to believe by this conduct that when using these e-cigarette products, they would not be exposed to the harmful chemicals found in ordinary cigarettes,” says ACCC acting chair Delia Rickard.

“In fact, they were exposed to the same chemicals, including a known carcinogen that has no safe level of exposure.

“Businesses must ensure that they provide accurate information to customers, and have a reasonable basis for making any representations. This is particularly important for products that may cause harm to the health of consumers.”

The ACCC has written to more than 30 Australian e-cigarette suppliers reminding them of their consumer law obligations.

The use of e-cigarettes as a tool to stop smoking is being taken up in some parts of the world. New Zealand is making electronic cigarettes legal as part of its campaign to be a “SmokeFree” country by 2025.

Some studies show that vaping has helped many quit smoking. However, other studies show that e-cigarettes can be toxic.

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