What is an electronic cigarette?
An electronic cigarette, most commonly known as an e-cigarette is a battery powered device which heats up liquid, known as e-liquid, into an aerosol which a person then breathes into their lungs. Using an e-cigarette is also called 'vaping'. They come in many shapes and sizes and can be made to look like cigarettes, cigars, pipes or hookahs, or t like everyday items such as pens or USB memory sticks. There are over 7,000 e-liquid flavours which include tobacco, confectionery, fruit and chocolate.
Some e-cigarettes and e-liquids contain nicotine (in some instances in large quantities), which is illegal in Australia even though they are not labelled as containing nicotine.
E-cigarettes containing high levels of nicotine are potentially lethal if swallowed. For these reasons e-liquids should always be kept out of reach of young children.
E-cigarettes and the vapour they produce can also contain many other harmful substances which are again not always labelled correctly. Substances which have been found in electronic cigarettes include:
- propylene glycol
- diethylene glycol
- heavy metal particles such as lead, chromium and nickel which come from parts within the device
E-cigarettes are not risk free. E-cigarettes may expose users to chemicals and toxins that can lead to issues such as irritation to skin, eyes and airways and to more severe health effects.
There is emerging evidence that the use of e-cigarettes, either with or without nicotine, may provide a gateway to a lifetime of nicotine addiction. Among non-smokers, those who use e-cigarettes are on average three times as likely to take up tobacco smoking as those who have not used e-cigarettes.
The direct health effects from using e-cigarettes need further investigation. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is currently funding a number of studies into the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes. The NHMRC CEO Statement for electronic cigarettes stated that there is currently insufficient evidence to support claims that e-cigarettes are safe and further research is needed to enable the long-term safety, quality and efficacy of e-cigarettes to be assessed. Read the NHMRC CEO Statement.
E-cigarettes contain many parts that are being imported into Australia without any quality controls, such as batteries and chargers.
Many electronic cigarettes use lithium batteries. These batteries can have a risk of fire and explosion in poor quality devices, or if the devices are not used properly.
Do e-cigarettes help you quit smoking?
While some e-cigarette manufacturers claim that they can help a person to quit smoking, there is currently insufficient evidence to conclude that e-cigarettes can assist smokers to quit.
The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has not assessed any e-cigarettes for quality, safety or performance as a smoking cessation aid.
Further information on safety and other issues relating to electronic cigarettes is available on the TGA website.
For more information on e-cigarettes, visit the NSW Health website.