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9-minute read

Key facts

  • Vapes often contain nicotine, which is a highly addictive, toxic drug.
  • Vapes can contain dangerous chemicals that are known to cause cancer.
  • Vaping can harm your health, such as by causing respiratory problems and nicotine dependence.
  • There is support to help you quit vaping. See your doctor or qualified healthcare professional and call Quitline.
  • You can only buy nicotine vaping products legally if you have a prescription from a doctor.

What are vapes?

Vapes (also called electronic cigarettes) are devices from which people inhale vapour. Using vapes is often called vaping. Vapes look like common items, such as highlighters, pens or USB memory sticks.

What do vapes contain?

Vapes contain liquid, which is heated to create vapour. The liquid can contain nicotine even when the vapes are not labelled as containing nicotine. Nicotine is a highly addictive, toxic drug.

Vapes can contain dangerous chemicals that are known to cause cancer, such as:

  • formaldehyde (used in industrial glues and for preserving corpses in hospitals and funeral homes)
  • acetone (found in nail polish remover)
  • acetaldehyde (used in chemicals, perfumes and plastics)
  • acrolein (found in weedkiller)
  • heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead

Vapes can also contain:

  • propylene glycol (a solvent used in fog and smoke machines)
  • polyester compounds
  • anti-freeze (used in the coolant of a car)
  • vegetable glycerine (a liquid from vegetable fat)

The chemicals in vapes have not been tested for safety, including those that add flavour.

What are the risks of vaping?

Vaping can harm your health. The known health risks of vaping include:

  • irritation of the mouth and airways
  • persistent coughing
  • nausea and vomiting
  • chest pain and palpitations
  • poisoning and seizures from inhaling too much nicotine or ingestion of e-liquid
  • burns or injury caused by the vape overheating or exploding
  • nicotine dependence
  • respiratory problems and permanent lung damage
  • harm to a developing adolescent brain

Some chemicals in vape aerosols can cause DNA damage.

There are other health concerns of vaping:

  • unknown risks of developing lung disease, heart disease and cancer
  • an increased risk of taking up smoking cigarettes, which has serious health issues, such as cancer
  • exposure to higher levels of toxic chemicals if you vape and smoke cigarettes

Dangers of vaping liquids

Liquid nicotine refills for vapes are dangerous for children and adults. 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.

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

How can I quit vaping?

There are different ways to stop vaping. What method you choose to quit vaping may depend on what makes you want to vape.

Research on quitting shows that if you have support to quit, you will have a better chance of quitting.

You can get advice and support from:

Methods include:

Once you decide on how you are going to quit, your next steps are to:

  • make a quit plan
  • learn how to cope with quitting and stay vape free

More quitting support
Get support on quitting vaping and smoking.

Are vapes legal to buy in Australia?

Laws about buying and selling vapes in Australia have been strengthened, and access to vaping products is now limited. This is to protect Australians, particularly young people, from the harms of vaping and nicotine dependence.

Nicotine vaping products are illegal in Australia unless you have a prescription from a doctor. Only pharmacies are allowed to sell these products.

To learn about the vaping laws and how they may affect you, stay up to date via the Therapeutic Goods Administration website.

If you are travelling to Australia, check the current Australian laws about bringing personal vaping products into the country.

You cannot legally vape in places where cigarette smoking is not allowed.

There may be other places where vaping is illegal, depending on the state and territory that you are in. To find out about these laws, visit the relevant link:

Resources and support

State-based quit resources:

Parents and carers:

Young people:

Translated information:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2024

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