What are e-cigarettes?
An e-cigarette, most commonly known as a 'vape', 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 everyday items such as pens or USB memory sticks. There are over 7,000 e-liquid flavours which include tobacco, confectionery, fruit and chocolate.
What's in a e-cigarette?
Some e-cigarettes and e-liquids contain nicotine (in some instances in large quantities), even though they are not labelled as containing nicotine, which is highly addictive.
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:
- 2-chlorophenol (used in pesticides and disinfectants)
- propylene glycol and glycerine (may be non-toxic when ingested orally, but researchers aren't sure how safe they are when vaporized and inhaled)
- diethylene glycol (found in industrial products such as antifreeze)
- acetone (a solvent in nail polish remover)
- acetaldehyde and formaldehyde (known to cause cancer)
- acrolein (a weed killer)
- heavy metals such as lead, chromium and nickel
- volatile organic compounds (common in paint and cleaning products)
Many electronic cigarettes use lithium batteries. These batteries can have a risk of fire and explosion.
E-cigarettes and e-liquids should always be kept out of reach of young children.
Too much nicotine from e-cigarettes can cause nicotine poisoning. If you think someone has been poisoned by liquid nicotine, please call the Poisons Centre on 13 11 26 immediately or 000 if it is an emergency. For more information see NSW Poisons Information Centre
What are the health impacts of using e-cigarettes?
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.
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 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.
Do e-cigarettes help you quit smoking?
Currently, there is 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 on how to access e-cigarettes is available on the TGA website.
NSW Health recommends smokers use approved medications to help them quit smoking, in consultation with their doctors or other health professionals. These products include: Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products such as patches, lozenges, mouth sprays or gums; Bupropion; and Varenicline. Alternatively, smokers can get help and support to quit from GPs or pharmacists, the free telephone based counselling service NSW Quitline at 13 7848, and an interactive website iCanQuit.
For more information on e-cigarettes, visit the e-cigarettes page oe the NSW Health website.