A six month delay on a proposed ban for the importation of nicotine products to Australia has been applauded by pro-vaping groups.
However, a Tasmanian researcher has warned of a growing trend of e-cigarettes being treated as a healthy alternative to smoking.
Last week the federal government announced it was implementing a ban on the importation of e-cigarettes containing vaporiser nicotine.
It means vapers will no longer be able to import liquid nicotine, without a doctors prescription. Those in breach of the ban could face a fine of up to $222,000.
The ban was due to come into place on July 1.
However, on Friday Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the implementation timeframe would be extended by six months to January 1, 2021, with a streamlined process for patients to access a prescription from their GP.
Peak health bodies including the Australian Medical Association and Royal Australian College of General Practitioners have long argued there is no such thing as safe tobacco use, with concerns over the quality of imported nicotine solutions and the way it's marketed among younger people.
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However, pro-vaping groups argued the restrictions could incentivise people to take up smoking cigarettes and hurt businesses.
Both the Australian Retail Vaping Industry Association and Australian Retailers Association labelled the regulation as poorly designed and dangerous.
Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, who has advocated for vaping to be made legal, said the regulatory ban was counter-productive and would frustrate the many Tasmanians who see vaping as "the lesser of two evils".
"Many vapers have indicated that they will return to tobacco in the absence of vaping," he said.
"The 'habit' is an addiction to nicotine. Inhaling the nicotine alone will be substantially better than inhaling all the other additives in tobacco products.
"Vapers engage in vaping because they want to be free of tobacco. Deny the vaping and they will return to tobacco because they have been unable to kick the habit through all the current methodologies."
In Australia it is illegal to buy, possess or use liquid nicotine for vaping without a prescription from a registered medical practitioner.
While recognising vaping should not be promoted as "completely safe", Mr Abetz pointed to evidence from Public Health England declaring vaping to be 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco.
However, last year Tasmanian research published in the European Respiratory Journal of Open Research showed vaping was just as harmful to a person's health as cigarettes.
Led by the University of Tasmania's Respiratory Translational Research Group's Sukhwinder Sohal, the study was the first of its kind to directly compare heat-not-burn products with e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco cigarettes.
It found all three methods of smoking resulted in damage to lung cells and were equally toxic.
Dr Sohal said the popularity of vaping continued to grow at an alarming rate, with many young Tasmanians mistaking vaping as a less harmful version of smoking.
"I don't like the notion that something is either harmful or it is less harmful. It doesn't make any sense," he said.
"When we look at poor health outcomes, something such as smoking might take five years to affect you. A less harmful product might take eight years.
"But you are still ending up in the same situation of a poor health outcome.
"I think this decision made by the government is fantastic, and it's really welcomed by Australia - certainly by their lungs."
Dr Sohal said research was continuing into the effects of vaping, with his 2019 research forming part of the World Health Organisations' Tobacco Product Information Sheet.
In a statement, Mr Hunt said Australia's medical experts, including the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, have warned of the health dangers of e-cigarettes.
"In particular, around the world we have seen strong evidence of non-smokers being introduced to nicotine through vaping for the first time," he said.
Dr Sohal said now was the time the government should be investing in research into electronic vaping systems.
"That is the only way we can discover new knowledge and can inform the government and other bodies that these things are actually bad for health," he said.
"It's about looking at the future as well. We can't have these gadgets going into the hands of children.
"Because as everyone knows, nicotine is a drug. Once you are hooked on it, you are a long term customer."