E-cigarettes are devices that make vapour for inhalation, simulating cigarette smoking. They are sometimes marketed as a way to quit smoking, but there's not enough evidence to show that they help – or are safe. In Australia, all e-cigarettes that contain nicotine require a prescription.
What are e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes are devices that deliver an aerosol by heating a solution that users breath in. The aerosol is commonly referred to as ‘vapour’. Using an e-cigarette is commonly known as ‘vaping’.
E-cigarettes are battery‑operated and may look like cigarettes, cigars, pipes, pens or memory sticks.
The liquids used in e-cigarettes:
- may contain a range of toxic chemicals including those that add flavour
- sometimes contain nicotine even if labelled as ‘nicotine free’.
Did you know?
E-cigarettes may also be known as:
- electronic cigarettes
- electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)
- electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS)
- alternative nicotine delivery systems (ANDS)
- personal vaporisers
- vape pens
Are e-cigarettes safe?
No. Even though scientists are still learning about e-cigarettes, they do not consider them safe.
Hazardous substances have been found in e-cigarette liquids and in the aerosol produced by e-cigarettes, including these known cancer-causing agents:
Some chemicals in e-cigarette aerosols can also cause DNA damage.
E-cigarettes do not produce the tar produced by conventional cigarettes which is the main cause of lung cancer. However, many scientists are concerned that using e-cigarettes could increase risk of lung disease, heart disease and cancer.
Research also shows:
- a strong association between the use of e-cigarettes by non-smoking youth and future smoking
- that many e-cigarette users appear to be continuing to use conventional tobacco products at the same time (dual users). However, this is not a safe way to improve heath. Dual users may be exposing themselves to even higher levels of toxicants compared to people who solely use conventional tobacco products.
It can be hard to assess the safety of e-cigarettes and liquids because:
- there are a wide variety of devices and liquids sold
- their labels are often incomplete or incorrect
- users can change the liquid they use in their e-cigarette and how the device operates
- many diseases (such as cancer) take a long time to develop.
Can e-cigarettes help you to quit smoking?
Currently, there is insufficient evidence to promote the use of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation. If you need additional support to quit, the most successful approach is behavioural support combined with medicines (such as TGA-approved nicotine patches, gums and lozenges) and follow-up. E-cigarettes containing nicotine are not first-line treatments for smoking cessation.
If you have tried to quit smoking using TGA approved medicines and been unsuccessful, speak to your doctor about whether or not e-cigarettes containing nicotine are a suitable option. In Australia, you must have a prescription to obtain e‑cigarettes that contain nicotine.
If you need help with quitting smoking:
- read about the ways you can quit smoking
- get in touch with a support service in our smoking and tobacco contacts.
Are e-cigarettes legal?
From 1 October 2021, Australians will need a prescription to legally access nicotine containing e‑cigarette products for any purpose. This includes importing these products from overseas.
Find out more about these changes.
State and territory laws about e-cigarettes
Under state and territory laws, it is illegal to possess, supply or sell nicotine containing e-cigarettes, except:
- in specific circumstances
- and when they are being supplied or accessed through a prescription.
Find out more about e-cigarette laws.
What we’re doing
We keep track of research about e-cigarettes to make sure we provide the most up‑to‑date advice to you.
We make sure our advice is in line with the guiding principles for e-cigarettes. All Australian governments have agreed to these principles.
For more information about e-cigarettes, take a look at the:
- Royal Australian College of General Practitioners' Supporting smoking cessation: A guide for health professionals
- Australian National University's Summary report on use of e-cigarettes and relation to tobacco smoking uptake and cessation
- recommendations issued by the United States Preventive Services Taskforce for tobacco smoking adults
- Final Opinion on e-cigarettes published by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks
- National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) statement on e-cigarettes
- Australian Government’s guiding principles for e-cigarettes
- CSIRO literature review into the use and health impacts of e-cigarettes and personal vaporisers.