Healthy living

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes)

  • Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are battery-operated devices that heat a liquid that emits an aerosol which is inhaled through a mouthpiece, and then exhaled by the user as a fine-particulate smoke.
  • The liquid is often called ‘e-liquid’, ‘e-juice’, or ‘vape juice’ and is intended to deliver chemicals directly to the lungs.
  • Using an e-cigarette is often called ‘vaping’.
  • The device often comes in many shapes and sizes and may look like a cigarette. Others may look like everyday items such as pens, highlighters or USB memory sticks.

E-cigarettes can contain water, flavours, solvents and nicotine. Chemicals found in e-cigarettes, e-liquids, and the aerosol smoke or “vapour” that they generate include: very fine particles; heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead; volatile organic compounds such as benzene, which is found in car exhaust; and poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as naphthalene, found in mothballs. All of these are known to be toxic, including chemicals that can cause cancer.

Many e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is the highly addictive and poisonous chemical also found in tobacco. Even though an e-cigarette’s packaging might say it is nicotine-free, testing has shown that many e-cigarettes in Australia are labelled incorrectly and in fact do contain nicotine.

E-liquids can come in thousands of different flavours, such as tobacco, confectionery, fruit and other flavours.

Are they legal?

It is illegal to sell, supply or possess an e-cigarette or any liquid that contains nicotine in Australia without a doctor’s prescription. Nicotine is a dangerous poison, even in small quantities, and it is strictly regulated in WA under the Medicines and Poisons Act 2014 (external site).

In Western Australia, products that are designed to resemble tobacco products, including e-cigarette devices and their components, whether or not they contain nicotine, cannot be sold by tobacco or general retailers under the Tobacco Products Control Act 2006 (external site).

The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has announced changes to be operational from 1 October 2021 to the national laws regulating imports of nicotine products (including nicotine e-cigarettes, nicotine pods and liquid nicotine) that have not been approved for use in Australia. Nicotine products can only be prescribed by a registered medical practitioner (or other authorised prescriber) and may only be dispensed by a registered pharmacy. An e-cigarette device designed and intended for delivery of nicotine may be supplied by a registered pharmacy, for use with prescribed nicotine products, as part of a medically supervised smoking cessation program.

More information about accessing unapproved products can be found on the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) website (external site).

Are they safe?

E-cigarettes have not been proven to be safe.

E-cigarettes are relatively new products and the long-term safety and health effects associated with their use and exposure to second-hand vapour are still unknown.

E-cigarettes are usually imported from overseas, and in many cases, they are manufactured in an unregulated environment without quality control over their design, content or consumer information.

The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) (external site) has not tested the safety of e-cigarettes or e-liquids.

The World Health Organization (external site) recommends that unless e-cigarettes are proven to be safe and effective, consumers should be advised to avoid them.

What are the harms of e-cigarettes?

While the long-term health effects are unclear, we do know that using e-cigarettes in the short-term has been associated with vomiting, nausea, and irritation to the throat and lungs (external site).

Some of the hazardous substances found in e-cigarette liquids and in the aerosol produced by e-cigarettes are known to cause damage to human cells and DNA and may lead to cancer.

Nicotine is known to harm to the developing adolescent brain, which can impact memory, concentration and behaviour. As the nicotine content within e-cigarettes varies depending on the device used, it is unclear how much nicotine or other chemicals are absorbed into the body. Nicotine is very addictive and using it may lead to nicotine dependence.

If e-liquids that contain nicotine are swallowed or absorbed through the skin, it can result in poisoning which can be severe and even fatal. Too much nicotine from vapes can also cause nicotine poisoning.

Similar to second-hand smoke from a cigarette, the particles within the aerosol exhaled from an e-cigarette can be breathed in by others (second-hand vapours) and may cause harm to their health.

There have been several cases reported where e-cigarette batteries or devices have overheated, caught fire or exploded. This can cause serious and in some cases life threatening injury, disability and disfigurement.

Read more about the health effects of e-cigarettes (external site).

Will they help me quit smoking?

There is insufficient evidence to conclude whether e-cigarettes as a cessation aid can help people quit smoking.

The Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA) (external site) has not assessed or approved any e-cigarette product as a therapeutic good for smoking cessation, therefore, the quality and safety of e-cigarettes for this purpose remains unknown.

There are many smoking cessation products available in Australia which have been approved by the TGA as safe and effective methods to help you quit smoking. These include nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) such as nicotine patches, gum, lozenges and mouth sprays which are available from supermarkets and chemists.

If you need support to quit smoking, speak to your doctor or trained Quitline counsellor about NRT and other strategies to support you on your quit journey. Ring the Quitline on 13 7848 (13 QUIT) or go to WA Quitline (external site).

Last reviewed: 09-08-2022

Tobacco Control Branch

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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