E-cigarette use in smoking cessation
Some smokers report using e-cigarettes for quitting smoking, particularly nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, but the evidence around their effectiveness is uncertain. Some studies have shown that quit attempts with e-cigarette products do not appear to increase long-term quitting success, while others have found they can help quitting. Most researchers agree that more reliable, large-scale studies are required to determine how effective e-cigarettes are for helping quit attempts.
Guidelines for general practitioners emphasise that nicotine vaping products are not recommended as the first option for quitting and that nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), such as patches and lozenges, and quitting medications have the strongest research around effectiveness and safety, particularly in combination with counselling support such as through the Quitline.
Potential health harms of vaping
As they have not been in the market for long, there are no strong long-term studies on the safety of e-cigarette use. However, since e-cigarettes do not generate the smoke that is produced by burning tobacco, it is generally accepted that they are likely to be less harmful than smoking conventional cigarettes.
While there is evidence that e-cigarettes may be less harmful than tobacco, this does not mean they should be considered harmless. The potential health risks of e-cigarettes are significant. In the short term, vaping has been shown to cause lung inflammation. In the longer term, there are concerns about damage to the lungs. Research is ongoing to investigate if e-cigarettes have a role in heart disease and cancer.
E-cigarettes deliver nicotine by creating ultrafine particles, and it is difficult for researchers to pin-point the potential health risks of their use. This is because the amount and type of chemical in these products can vary between different e-cigarette products, particularly with different flavours. Therefore, it is unknown whether the ultrafine particles in e-cigarettes may cause some health and toxicity effects similar to the fine particles made during normal smoking. What is known, however, is that e-cigarettes have been found to include several chemicals with known potential for causing respiratory issues and lung damage.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) assesses and regulates medicines and other therapeutic goods. Nicotine vaping products remain unapproved by the TGA as it has not received any applications for registration of nicotine vaping products. The TGA has also advised that the long-term health risks of these unapproved products remain unclear.
There is also a growing amount of research suggesting a possible ‘gateway effect’ between e-cigarette use and young people taking up smoking. According to research, e-cigarette use by an adolescent is associated with an increase of two to four times in the likelihood of cigarette smoking over the next year.
Accessing e-cigarettes and nicotine
From 1 October 2021, while nicotine vaping products remain unapproved by the TGA, it is lawful for a person wanting to use nicotine in e-cigarettes to access these products if they obtain a medical prescription from an Australian medical practitioner, including if they are getting it from overseas.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has advised that nicotine vaping products should only be tried when other measures such as NRT (such as nicotine patches and lozenges), with counselling support, have been unsuccessful.
Once you have obtained a prescription, you can have it filled at a pharmacy or import the nicotine vaping product from overseas using the TGA’s Personal Importation Scheme.
Did you know …?
E-cigarette liquids can contain nicotine or can be nicotine free.
Nicotine-containing e-cigarettes are only legally available by doctor’s prescription from a pharmacy or through the TGA’s Personal Importation Scheme. Keep in mind that some e-liquids sold in Australia claiming to be nicotine-free have actually been found to contain nicotine.