Vaping: What we know


colourful vape pens

Are vapes safe? In short, no. While e-cigarettes do not pose the same risks as smoking tobacco, they are not safe and can cause serious health risks. Here is what we know.

What are vapes?

Using an e-cigarette is commonly called 'vaping'. Vapes are battery operated devices that heat a liquid (e-liquid) to produce an aerosol that users inhale. The 'cloud' from vaping may look like a vapour or steam but is really an aerosol. The aerosol is made up of a fine spray of chemicals and small particles that can get lodged deep in the lungs.

Vapes come in many shapes and are often made to look like highlighters, pens or USB memory sticks. The gadgets, vivid colours and flavours are made to appeal particularly to young people.

Is vaping safe?

Research shows that vaping is not without risk, especially for people who have never smoked before. E-liquids also referred to as 'vape juice' can contain a very high level of nicotine, carcinogenic flavourings and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead that are emitted as a result of heating up the liquid and cartridge.

"Hazardous substances have been found in e-cigarette liquids and in the aerosol produced by e-cigarettes, including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein, which are known to cause cancer." – Department of Health, Australian Government

Testing has shown that e-liquid labelled 'nicotine-free' can have high nicotine levels. People can think they are using nicotine-free vapes and unknowingly quickly develop a nicotine addiction.

Key facts

  • Nicotine is an extremely addictive drug
  • Some vapes sold as 'nicotine-free' have been discovered to contain large amounts of nicotine
  • Some e-liquids have been found to contain cancer causing formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein
  • High doses or prolonged use of chemicals found in e-liquids such as propylene glycol and ethylene glycol (antifreeze) are known to cause central nervous system toxicity
  • Vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil, or cannabinoids, may contain a liquid thickening additive vitamin E-acetate associated with the 2019 outbreak of acute respiratory failure, lung injuries and deaths in the US
  • Studies show vaping leads to increased likelihood of tobacco smoking in young people
  • Tobacco smoking is still the lead preventable cause of death and disease in Australia

Vaping and young people

NSW Health is very concerned about the uptake of vaping by young people. They say that the use of e-cigarettes in young people, aged 16 to 24, has increased substantially since data on e-cigarette use was first collected in the NSW Population Health Survey. One of the concerning statistics show that young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to go on to smoke cigarettes.

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Vaping and the law

E-cigarettes that contain nicotine are illegal in NSW. The sale and use of e-liquid nicotine, including in e-cigarettes, in NSW is illegal - so too are vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil, or cannabinoids. E-cigarettes without nicotine can legally be sold by registered stores only. These stores must comply with strict rules.

Under the NSW Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2008, it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes or e-cigarette accessories to a person under 18 years of age. Adults (18 years and over) can buy and use e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine.

If you think someone is selling e-cigarettes that contain nicotine, please report it to NSW Health or call the Tobacco Information Line on 1800 357 412. You can report vaping products containing THC or cannabinoids to Crime Stoppers.

Australian health bodies warn that e-cigarettes may expose users and bystanders to chemicals that are harmful to others. The Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 and the Passenger Transport (General) Regulation 2017 prohibits people from using e-cigarettes in smoke-free areas. E-cigarettes can be used where smoking is not banned.

Discover more about Tobacco and smoking control in NSW.

Getting help

Quitline counsellors are available to answer any questions you may have about e-cigarettes on 13 7848. They can also help you think of ways to approach a conversation with your child or loved one about vaping.

For people who are attempting to quit tobacco and were considering using nicotine-free e-cigarettes, using nicotine replacement therapy products such as lozenges, gums, nasal sprays and patches may be a better option. The NSW Cancer Institute iCanQuit website provides information on quitting methods, links to support groups and top tips to help you choose the best method for you.

You can also get help via phone from the following services:

  • Call Quitline on 13 7848 (13 QUIT) for information and advice about quitting, assessment of your nicotine dependence, strategies on preparing to quit and staying quit.
  • The Aboriginal Quitline is also available on 13 7848 (13 QUIT). Run by Aboriginal Advisors, the Aboriginal Quitline is a telephone-based confidential advice and support service.

For free and confidential advice 24/7 call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide information, referrals, crisis counselling and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5pm. ADIS can also provide up-to-date information about service availability in your area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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