E-cigarettes and Vaping Facts

What are e-cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery-operated devices that heat a liquid to produce a vapour that users inhale. Using an e-cigarette is known as ‘vaping’.

E-cigarettes deliver nicotine or other substances, such as THC (the mind-altering ingredient in cannabis), to the lungs. Many e-cigarettes look like traditional cigarettes or cigars. Some resemble USB devices, pens or pipes. Others have a unique tank-style design or replicate traditional water-pipe smoking (hookah, narghile, argileh, boory, goza, hookah, hubble-bubble, shisha).

There are more than 460 brands of e-cigarettes and around 7,700 flavours worldwide.1

 This image below shows examples of the types of e-cigarettes.

E cigarettes

What’s inside an e-cigarette?

All e-cigarettes have a:

  • Mouthpiece – to inhale the vapour
  • Fluid cartridge – to hold the fluid which usually contains nicotine, glycerine, propylene glycol and flavourings
  • Atomiser – to heat the fluid and create the vapour 
  • Battery – to power the atomiser.

Do e-cigarettes help smokers quit?

Research suggests that e-cigarettes may help some smokers quit. Still, most people who use e-cigarettes to quit smoking do not quit.2

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has not approved e-cigarettes to help smokers quit. Products the TGA has approved include nicotine replacement therapy aids like patches, lozenges, gum, mouth spray and inhalers. 

What are the laws for using e-cigarettes in Australia?

In Australia, it is illegal to sell or buy e-cigarettes that contain nicotine. One exception is that nicotine can be imported by an individual for use as an unapproved therapeutic good (eg as an aid to quit smoking), on the condition it is prescribed by a doctor. It is legal to buy e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine.

Australia has laws regarding the use of e-cigarettes in public spaces. The vapour in e-cigarettes has no smell but the laws protect bystanders from passive exposure to vapour which contains other substances. In most states and territories, people are not allowed to use e-cigarettes in places where cigarette smoking is prohibited.

People are prohibited using e-cigarettes in places such as:

  • Shopping centres
  • Trains
  • Buses
  • Near children’s play equipment
  • Restaurants and bars
  • Sports grounds.

Fines apply (up to $550 in NSW) for users who ignore the laws.

Are e-cigarettes safe?

E-cigarettes are relatively new products, so we don’t know a lot about their long-term health effects. The first commercialised e-cigarette product was developed in 2003 in China. 

Some of the risks we know about include:

  • Lung disease risk – studies have shown that using e-cigarettes is linked to lung disease, potentially caused by the vapour and flavourings
  • Cardiovascular risk – studies have shown that e-cigarettes impair blood vessel function and e-cigarette users are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.

While e-cigarettes don’t produce the tar found in traditional cigarettes, they do produce toxins and chemicals like formaldehyde which is known to cause cancer.

Most products which involve inhaling chemicals into the lungs go through extensive testing to prove that they are safe and effective for use. 

Claims that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes are not proven.

As researchers haven’t tested the safety of e-cigarettes available in Australia, e-cigarettes cannot be considered safe.

  1. Kamat, Aarti D.; Van Dyke, Alison L. (2017). "Use of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems Among Adolescents: Status of the Evidence and Public Health Recommendations". Pediatric Annals. 46 (2): e69–e77. doi:10.3928/19382359-20170111-01. ISSN 1938-2359. PMID 28192582.
  2. J. Hartmann-Boyce, H. McRobbie, C. Bullen, R. Begh, L. F. Stead and P. Hajek, “Electronic Cigarettes for Smoking Cessation (Review)” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, no. 9, 2016.