The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched separate proceedings in the Federal Court against two online e-cigarette retailers, alleging the companies mislead consumers by making statements on their websites that their e-cigarette products did not contain toxic chemicals.

The ACCC alleges that the two companies, Social-Lites Pty Ltd (Social-Lites) and Elusion New Zealand Limited (Elusion), breached the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) by making representations on their websites from at least August 2015 that the e-cigarette products being sold did not contain carcinogens or toxic chemicals, and did not contain any of the chemicals found in conventional cigarettes.

The ACCC alleges, based on independent testing it commissioned, that the e-cigarette products sold by Social-Lites and Elusion did in fact contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals found in conventional cigarettes, including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein.

Within Australia, the legislation regarding e-cigarette use, display and sale varies from state to state. Although the sale of non-nicotine e-cigarettes is currently unregulated in Australia, it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes and e-liquids containing nicotine.

New legislation regarding the sale of e-cigarettes was introduced in Victoria last month. Under the new laws Victorians under the age of 18 are not allowed to buy e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes will also now be regulated in the same way as tobacco products, meaning all existing bans on the sale, use and promotion of tobacco products will also apply to all e-cigarettes across the state.

“It is imperative that suppliers have scientific evidence to support claims that their products do not contains carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde,” ACCC chairman, Rod Sims, said.

“This is particularly important when, as here, products are designed to be inhaled and are being differentiated from conventional tobacco cigarettes because they are claimed not to contain toxic chemicals.”

“There is an increasing level of concern among international, national and state authorities regarding the composition of e-cigarettes, and the likely effects of their use. The ACCC will continue to work with its local and international counterparts to ensure consumers are receiving accurate information about these products,” Mr Sims said.

The ACCC also alleges that the CEO of Social-Lites and the director of Elusion were knowingly concerned in the alleged contraventions by Social-Lites and Elusion respectively. The ACCC is seeking pecuniary penalties.

In an online statement, Social-Lites said it never intended to mislead consumers, adding that its products are a “better, smarter alternative” to smoking cigarettes.

“We are lead to believe via many independent studies from around the world that electronic cigarettes like our Premium Electronic Cigarette Starter Kit…would not produce carcinogens. It’s only when people use vaporisers with high voltage capabilities do carcinogens form.”

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