E-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes) are battery-operated devices designed to look and feel similar to cigarettes or cigars, but they don't burn tobacco.
What is an e-cigarette?
E-cigarettes heat liquids to produce a vapour that looks like smoke, which users inhale. Using an e-cigarette is often called 'vaping'.
The liquid solutions contain chemicals and sometimes appealing-sounding flavourings, such as chocolate, bubblegum and fruity flavours.
E-cigarettes might be shaped like cigarettes, cigars, pens or other common items.
Are e-cigarettes legal?
In all states and territories in Australia, it is illegal to sell, possess or use e-cigarettes that contain nicotine. But this does not guarantee all e-cigarettes sold legally are nicotine-free.
The Australian Government intends to make it illegal from 1 January 2021 to import or purchase liquid nicotine e-cigarettes or refills from overseas. You will only be able to legally use e-cigarettes containing nicotine if they have been prescribed by a doctor. Learn more at the Therapeutic Goods Administration website.
You can legally buy e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine. It is illegal, however, for manufacturers or retailers to make any therapeutic claims about e-cigarettes. For example, they can't claim that e-cigarettes help people to quit smoking.
It is also against the law in most states and territories to use e-cigarettes in legislated smoke-free areas (see 'Use of e-cigarettes in public places', below).
Is vaping harmful?
There has not been enough research on e-cigarettes to know exactly how they might affect your health. And evidence is emerging of a link between vaping and lung disease requiring intensive care.
Most e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, but the toxic chemicals and flavourings in e-cigarettes could be very harmful.
Most products that involve inhaling chemicals into the lungs 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 can't be guaranteed.
Experts are concerned that teenagers and young people who wouldn't try 'real' cigarettes may be attracted to vaping. There's a risk that e-cigarettes could normalise smoking, and act as a gateway to tobacco cigarettes.
Do e-cigarettes help you quit smoking?
There is limited evidence that e-cigarettes are effective in helping people give up smoking in the short-term, but, it's not clear whether they help people to quit in the long-term, or if they are as effective as other methods such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).
E-cigarettes are not approved in Australia as a smoking cessation (stopping) aid.
If you want to give up smoking, call the Quitline on 13 7848.
You can also talk to your doctor about nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) aids, such as patches, gum and inhalators. They're usually available over the counter, but if you have a prescription you may be able to get them on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Combining 2 forms of NRT seems to work better than one since they work in different ways.
Vaping liquids can harm children
Although illegal in Australia, liquid nicotine refills for e-cigarettes are very dangerous both for children and adults. Nicotine is a poison that can be absorbed through the skin, and accidental swallowing of liquid nicotine can be lethal.
One teaspoon of liquid nicotine refill is enough to cause permanent damage or even death, particularly in children.
If you suspect that someone has taken has been poisoned, get medical help immediately. You can call the Poisons Information Line 24 hours a day from anywhere in Australia on 13 11 26.
If the person is showing signs of being seriously ill, such as vomiting, loss of consciousness, drowsiness or seizures (fits), call triple zero (000) for an ambulance, or take the person to the closest emergency department.
Use of e-cigarettes in public places
In all states and territories except Western Australia, 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 relevant link:
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: June 2020