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What are Electronic Cigarettes

What are Electronic Cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes – or e-cigarettes – are battery-powered devices that heat up a solution (often called e-liquid) to form a vapour, which is inhaled.

The action of inhaling is commonly referred to as ‘vaping’, as the vapour often looks like tobacco smoke and inhaling mimics the action of smoking.

E-cigarettes come in all shapes and sizes. Some look just like cigarettes, while other look completely different, with ‘tank’ type designs and adjustable power settings.

There are two main types of e-liquids: those containing nicotine and those without nicotine. In Australia, the most commonly-sold type is non-nicotine, as nicotine is illegal to buy, possess or use without a licence or authorisation.

No electronic cigarette or e-liquid containing nicotine has been approved by health authorities in Australia.

Are electronic cigarettes effective for quitting smoking?

Electronic cigarettes have not been approved by Australian health authorities as a smoking cessation aid or nicotine replacement therapy. 

Some electronic cigarette manufacturers claim that electronic cigarettes can assist with quitting smoking, however there is limited evidence and mixed opinions among health experts about whether using electronic cigarettes can actually help people to quit.

Current research shows mixed results and unclear conclusions.

  • Some studies show that electronic cigarettes do not assist people to quit or help to reduce the amount of tobacco cigarettes they smoke.

Some people use both electronic cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes; a recent UK study found that 80% of people using electronic cigarettes continued to smoke tobacco cigarettes.

If you’re ready to quit smoking, head to Getting Started to find out how to begin your journey to smoke-free


Are electronic cigarettes safe?

There is limited information available about how safe electronic cigarettes are. The products available in Australia use a wide variety of parts and are sourced from many different manufacturers, including overseas manufacturers where safety and quality controls are unknown.

The limited available evidence shows that the safety of electronic cigarettes, liquids and aerosols cannot be guaranteed for users and other people who are exposed to them. Many harmful substances have been found in the heated vapour, including some of the same lung-damaging toxins found in tobacco smoke.

These harmful substances are at a very low level compared to tobacco smoke, however higher levels have been recorded in newer devices that allow for higher voltage heating of the e-liquid.

There are also concerns about the unregulated doses of nicotine, other chemicals used in e-liquids, exposure to particulate matter and the safety of the electronic devices themselves.

As e-cigarettes are a relatively new product, the long term effects of exposure to these substances at the level found in electronic cigarettes is unknown.

It is important to remember that, unlike Nicotine Replacement Therapy products, electronic cigarettes have not been assessed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for effectiveness and safety, so they should not be considered a safe product, or a suitable quitting aid.


Should I use e-cigarettes to help me quit smoking?

If you’re considering using electronic cigarettes to help you quit smoking, you might want to give the following points some thought:

  • There is no good evidence that electronic cigarettes are any better than current recommended strategies.
  • The devices and e-liquids are not regulated as a therapeutic good in Australia and manufacturing standards are not monitored
  • In clinical trials, the vast majority of people that used either nicotine or non-nicotine e-cigarettes did not stop smoking.

Remember, there are plenty of evidence-based quit smoking methods and products that are proven to help people quit smoking, such as professional support and Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT).

Finally, it’s a good idea to ask yourself these questions about why you are really wanting to use e-cigarettes:

Do I just want to use electronic cigarettes to make it easier to maintain lower levels of tobacco smoking?

Am I simply attracted to electronic cigarettes as a more pleasurable, easier way to quit? 

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For more information about e-cigarettes, click here to visit the NSW Ministry of Health website. 

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