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An internet pharmacy has withdrawn its electronic cigarettes from sale after the Ministry of Health "advised" it was acting illegally.

Satisfied customers of Dunedin-based OnlinePharmacy emailed to express their dismay to the Weekend Herald over the restrictions on the e-cigarette and its nicotine cartridges, which had been promoted as a quit-smoking aid.

"Bugger, since they work," wrote Bryce. Phil said he had been using his e-cigarette for several months and liked it.

"They're much better than [nicotine] gum and patches and over a lengthy period they are much cheaper."

Their only option now is to import the cartridges via the internet - until Christchurch importer and vendor Full Life starts selling them on the internet and in malls. It plans to do so within months.

The legality of sales of e-cigarettes with nicotine cartridges (they are also sold with nicotine-free flavoured cartridges) is a grey area.

OnlinePharmacy issued a recall to its e-cigarette customers, saying the ministry had advised it that sales of the products in New Zealand were not legal.

The ministry considers the nicotine version to be a medicine and therefore subject to the Medicines Act. No one has yet applied for them to be licensed as a medicine.

"Until such time as the manufacturer or distributor of the product submits an application, the product is an unapproved medicine and its distribution would be an offence under ... the act," said Karen Evison, a ministry tobacco policy manager.

However, public health specialist Dr Murray Laugesen argues the products can be legally imported and sold - but not advertised - under the Smokefree Environments Act, although he wants the ministry first to write regulations to ensure safety.

They would be "recreational" - like cigarettes - rather than medicinal, at least until they could be registered as a medicine.

Auckland University researchers who studied Ruyan brand e-cigarettes in 40 smokers reported it "might have potential" to help smokers quit tobacco, but much more research was needed first.

Some researchers are concerned e-cigarettes could produce an alternative route for teenagers to nicotine addiction and undermine efforts to "denormalise" tobacco.

Full Life managing director Cecil Driver said nicotine e-cigarettes should not be marketed as a quit-smoking aid because of the lack of research in this area.

The device produces a smokefree mist containing nicotine.