What are e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes or “vapes” are battery-powered or rechargeable devices that are designed to deliver nicotine and/or other chemicals via an aerosol vapour directly to the lungs. Many vapes contain nicotine, the highly addictive chemical found in cigarettes, and products vary in terms of ingredients and designs.
Vapes can look like everyday items such as pens, highlighters, and USB memory sticks but the design of these products is changing all the time. When using a vape, the user inhales and exhales the vapour from the heated e-liquid. All e-cigarettes have three basic components: a battery, an atomiser and a fluid cartridge. The fluid used in vapes usually contains propylene glycol, glycerol, nicotine and added flavourings.
Why should we be concerned?
Vaping is increasing in Australia, particularly among young people. More than 1 in 3 16–24-year-olds have used e-cigarettes and alarmingly, daily and regular use of e-cigarettes among young people in this age group has more than doubled in recent years from 4.5% to 11% in 2020/21. In NSW, vaping is the highest among young people aged 16-24 years, for use at least once (32.7%) and current (daily or occasional) use (11.1%).
Cancer Council NSW’s Generation Vape study found one third of NSW teenagers surveyed had vaped. Of them, four out of five described getting hold of vapes illegally as “easy”, through multiple channels, including through friends, retail stores, online stores, and via social media.
E-cigarettes are addicting a new generation of young people to nicotine and increase the risk of smoking uptake – the biggest preventable cause of cancer. Many vapes contain nicotine, even those not labelled as containing nicotine have been found to contain it. In addition to nicotine, young people using vapes can be inhaling over 100 toxins and chemicals that are also found in weed killer, nail polish, bug spray and cleaning products.
There is clear evidence that vaping causes harm and is associated with the uptake of smoking in adolescents. The most comprehensive analysis of the health impacts of e-cigarettes published to date shows e-cigarette users are three times as likely as non-users to take up smoking, supportive of a “gateway effect”. It also found that e-cigarettes cause direct health harms, including poisoning, seizures, burns and lung disease
Are e-cigarettes legal in NSW?
E-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine are legal in NSW for adults (aged 18 and older) to buy and use.
From 1 October 2021, e-cigarettes and e-liquids containing nicotine are a prescription only medicine. This means pharmacists in community pharmacies can supply e-liquids and e-cigarettes (containing nicotine) to their customers (18 years and over) if they have a valid prescription from a doctor. For retailers other than pharmacies it is illegal to sell e-liquids and e-cigarettes that contain nicotine, including online sales.
The sale and use of e-cigarettes and e-liquids containing nicotine is illegal under the NSW Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Regulation 2008 without approval from the NSW Ministry of Health.
The following regulations also apply to e-cigarettes in NSW:
- The sale of e-cigarettes to minors under the age of 18 is banned
- E-cigarette advertising and in-store promotions, including displays, are banned
- The use of e-cigarettes in cars with minors under the age of 16 years is banned
- Businesses wanting to sell e-cigarettes are required to register with the NSW Ministry of Health
- The use of e-cigarettes in indoor and outdoor areas where it is illegal to smoke tobacco products (e.g. in workplaces, on public transport, in restaurants, near children’s play equipment) is banned
Are e-cigarettes safe?
No, e-cigarettes are not safe and can cause harm.
While e-cigarettes are still relatively new and the long-term impacts still being researched, evidence of the short-term health effects are emerging. Identified risks of vaping include;
E-cigarettes may also expose users and bystanders to chemicals and toxins such as propylene glycol, glycerol or ethylene glycol that cause adverse health effects, and may increase the risk of developing cardiovascular, cancer and respiratory diseases. E-liquids or vapour may also contain potentially harmful chemicals which are not present in smoke from tobacco cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are often labelled incorrectly and may contain nicotine, even when they claim not to. Even small amounts of nicotine can cause poisoning if swallowed, particularly among children and infants. If you think someone has been poisoned by liquid nicotine, urgently call the NSW Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 or call 000 if it is an emergency.
Do e-cigarettes help people who smoke to quit?
The evidence for e-cigarettes as cessation aids to help people quit smoking is inconclusive. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is Australia’s government authority responsible for assessing, evaluating, and monitoring therapeutic goods (medicines, medical devices and biologicals). The TGA has not approved any e-cigarette product as a cessation aid to help with quitting smoking. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has also advised that e-cigarettes should not be advertised as a safe alternative to smoking.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved many other products such as patches, gum, lozenges, mouth spray, inhalators and stop smoking medications (Bupropion and Varenicline) as quitting aids that are safe to use and are shown to increase the chances of quitting smoking.
Is e-cigarette use banned in public places?
The rule is simple: Vaping is banned anywhere that cigarette smoking is banned. According to the NSW Smoke-free Environment Act 2000, smoke-free areas where people cannot smoke or use e-cigarettes are:
- All indoor public places
- Outdoor public places (public swimming pools, spectator areas at sports grounds, public transport stops and platforms, commercial outdoor dining areas, within 4 metres of a pedestrian access point to a public building and more)
- In a car with a child under 16 years of age in the vehicle.
Using e-cigarettes on public transport vehicles (e.g., trains, buses, light rail, ferries) is also banned under the Passenger Transport (General) Regulation 2017.
For more information on smoke-free legislation, enforcement, and reporting, please see the NSW Health Smoke-free laws webpage.
What is Cancer Council NSW’s policy position on e-cigarettes?
Cancer Council NSW is calling on all levels of government to urgently address the unfolding crisis of vaping among young people.
If action is not taken to curb vaping among young people, we risk addicting a new a generation to nicotine and undoing the health gains achieved through effective tobacco control over many decades.
Non-nicotine vapes are preventing the Government’s ability to enforce the current laws. For this reason, Cancer Council NSW is calling for all levels of Government to ensure all vapes (regardless of whether they contain nicotine or not) are only available via a doctor’s prescription as a last line of defence for people who smoke trying to quit.
We are also calling on the Australian Government to immediately strengthen its enforcement action to stop illegal importation of vaping products into Australia.
Where can I find further information and resources on e-cigarettes?
Key resource – E-cigarettes: what you need to know as parents
- Book an appointment with your local General Practitioner
Generation Vape Research Project:
- Stay up-to-date with Generation Vape by joining our mailing list
- Check out the Generation Vape web page
How to report a retail outlet selling illegal e-cigarettes in your community?
E-cigarettes containing nicotine cannot be sold in Australia unless the user has a prescription from a medical doctor. If you think someone is selling e-cigarettes that contain nicotine in your community, you can report it to NSW Health online or call the Tobacco Information Line on 1800 357 412
Electronic cigarettes and health outcomes: systematic review of global evidence: Banks, E., Yazidjoglou, A., Brown, S., Nguyen, M., Martin, M., Beckwith, K., Daluwatta, A., Campbell, S., Joshy, G.
Vaping product access and use among 14-17-year-olds in New South Wales: a cross-sectional study: Watts, C., Egger, S., Dessaix, A., Brooks, A., Jenkinson, E., Grogan, P., Freeman, B.