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E-cigarettes (vaping)

6-minute read

Key facts

  • The long-term safety and health effects associated with E-cigarettes and exposure to second-hand vapour are still unknown.
  • If e-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes) contain nicotine, there may be a high risk of dependence and tolerance, as with tobacco cigarettes.
  • E-cigarettes are often marketed as a way to quit smoking but there isn’t enough evidence to support this.
  • You cannot purchase nicotine vaping products without a prescription.
  • E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that look and feel like cigarettes, cigars, pens or other common items, but they do not burn tobacco.
  • All vapes containing nicotine are regulated as prescription medicines so can only be supplied in pharmacies.

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 liquids can contain chemicals and flavourings, like chocolate, bubble-gum and fruity flavours. E-cigarettes might be shaped like cigarettes, cigars, pens or other common items.

Nicotine vaping products can only be purchased from a pharmacy with a doctor’s prescription. This includes nicotine e-cigarettes, pods and liquid nicotine.

It is also illegal to import disposable vapes from overseas — whether they contain nicotine or not. This means that it’s against the law to purchase disposable vapes online from an overseas supplier, even if you have a prescription.

More information about Australia’s vaping and e-cigarette laws is available on the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s website.

Is vaping harmful?

There is not enough research on e-cigarettes to know exactly how they affect your health. There is evidence that suggests a link between vaping and lung disease that requires intensive care.

Most e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco. Yet the toxic chemicals and flavourings in e-cigarettes could be very harmful.

Most products that involve inhaling (breathing in) chemicals into the lungs go through a long testing process before scientists can know if they are safe and effective. These tests have not yet been done on the e-cigarettes available in Australia, so their safety can't be guaranteed.

Experts are also concerned that teenagers and young people who wouldn't try 'real' cigarettes may be attracted to vaping. There is a risk that e-cigarettes could normalise smoking, and act as a gateway to tobacco cigarettes.

Vaping liquids can harm children

Liquid nicotine refills for e-cigarettes are very dangerous for both children and adults. They are illegal in Australia. Nicotine is a poison that can be absorbed through the skin. Accidental swallowing of liquid nicotine can be deadly.

One teaspoon of liquid nicotine refill is enough to cause permanent damage or even death, especially in children.

If you suspect that someone 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.

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 or long-term.

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. These include patches, gum and inhalators. These are generally available at the pharmacy over the counter. If you have a prescription, you may be able to get them at a reduced cost on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Combining 2 forms of NRT seem to work better than one since they work in different ways.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Can you use e-cigarettes in public places?

You cannot use e-cigarettes any place that cigarette smoking is not allowed. This includes:

  • shopping centres
  • buses
  • trains
  • near children's play equipment
  • outdoor dining areas
  • sports grounds

This is in effect in all states and territories except Western Australia.

To find out about the laws on 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: November 2022


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