E-cigarettes (‘electronic cigarettes’) are battery-operated devices designed to look and feel similar to cigarettes or cigars.
If you use an e-cigarette, you exhale vapour that looks like smoke. Using an e-cigarette is called ‘vaping’.
In some countries, e-cigarettes are used to help people give up smoking, though they are not currently recommended for this purpose in Australia. If you want to give up smoking, call Quitline on 13 7848.
Read more about the Cancer Council's position on e-cigarettes.
What is an e-cigarette?
An e-cigarette uses a battery to heat a solution containing nicotine and other chemicals, and sometimes flavourings. This creates a vapour that users inhale.
Some e-cigarettes are shaped like cigarettes or cigars but others can be shaped like pens or other items.
Are e-cigarettes legal?
Under current laws relating to nicotine, it is illegal to sell, buy, or use e-cigarettes that contain nicotine in Australia.
You can legally buy e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine. However, it’s illegal for manufacturers to claim that these can help you quit smoking.
It is also illegal to sell products that look like cigarettes or cigars in some states.
Use and effects of e-cigarettes
E-cigarettes are relatively new and there has not been enough research to know whether they might affect your health. We know that tobacco is dangerous for you, whether you smoke it or inhale it in an e-cigarette. There are also concerns that some of the flavourings used in e-cigarettes could be bad for your health.
It is also unclear whether or not they would help you quit smoking.
Some people say they use e-cigarettes so they can smoke in smoke-free places (see 'Use of e-cigarettes in public places', below) or to reduce or stop smoking. But e-cigarettes are not approved in Australia to help you quit smoking.
Most people who quit do so without any medical help. If you would like some help, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) aids such as patches, gum and inhalators have been shown to help. As well, stop-smoking medications are available with a doctor’s prescription.
Experts are worried that teenagers and young people who wouldn’t try real cigarettes may be attracted to e-cigarettes, and then become addicted to nicotine or switch to normal cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes is banned in many places in Australia. Allowing people to smoke e-cigarettes could make it seem normal to smoke again.
Most products involving inhaling chemicals into the lungs have to go through a long testing process to prove they are safe and effective. These tests have not been conducted on the e-cigarettes available in Australia, so their safety cannot be guaranteed.
Use of e-cigarettes in public places
In most states and territories, you are not allowed to use e-cigarettes in places where cigarette smoking is also prohibited, such as shopping centres, buses, trains, near children's play equipment, outdoor dining areas, sports grounds and more.
To find out about the laws regarding e-cigarette use in public spaces where you live, visit the links here:
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Last reviewed: February 2019