E-cigarette use in smoking cessation
E-cigarettes are battery powered devices that heat a liquid (e-liquid or juice) until it becomes an aerosol, which is then inhaled by the user. The e-liquid usually contains a mix of carrier liquids that give the aerosol a ‘smoke-like’ cloud (when exhaled) and a sensation in the throat that simulates the experience of smoking.
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.
Evidence around effectiveness is limited
There is limited evidence that e-cigarettes help with smoking cessation. People who smoke and are thinking about vaping, should discuss their options with a qualified medical professional in the first instance – such as their general practitioner (GP).
Generally, nicotine vaping products are not recommended as the first option for quitting. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), such as patches and lozenges, and prescribed quitting medications have the strongest research around effectiveness and safety, particularly when they are combined with counselling support such as through the Quitline.
Potential health harms of vaping
E-cigarettes containing liquid nicotine are highly addictive. But all e-cigarettes contain toxic chemicals that harm your health.
E-liquids typically contain:
- a mix of carrier liquids, vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol
- food flavouring chemicals that have not been tested for safety when inhaled
They may also contain nicotine (regardless of the labelling).
As chemicals change when mixed, stored and/or heated, the chemicals in the e-liquid when it is produced, can be different to those inhaled by the user. We know the aerosol inhaled from e-cigarettes can contain toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde and heavy metals. These are known to cause damage to the lungs.
Additionally, the devices can shed metal from their components and construction materials into the inhaled vapour. Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic have been found in the blood and urine of people who vape.
As well as being an addictive substance, nicotine is a poison. Ingestion or absorption through swallowing, as well as via the skin or eyes, can be very serious, particularly for young children. Too much nicotine can also cause nausea, vomiting, chest pain, headache, dizziness and seizures. While in children and young people, nicotine can affect brain development, impacting the part of the brain controlling learning and attention.
As well as the health risks from inhaling the aerosol, e-cigarette batteries can explode or ignite during transport, charging or use.
Accessing e-cigarettes and nicotine
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.
- More information on accessing nicotine products
- More information on e-cigarettes and South Australian laws
Did you know …?
Even liquids labelled as ‘non-nicotine’ have been found to contain nicotine when tested.
Inhaling the aerosols from e-cigarettes lodges toxic chemicals and fine particles deep in people’s lungs increasing their risk of respiratory diseases.
There are no controls on the quality of construction or labelling on e-cigarettes available for retail sale – some pose a risk of exploding or causing fires.
Nicotine-containing e-cigarettes are only legally available by a doctor’s prescription from a pharmacy or through the TGA’s Personal Importation Scheme.
Possession of nicotine vaping products, such as nicotine e-cigarettes, nicotine pods and liquid nicotine, is illegal unless the possessor has a valid medical prescription.
Resources and support materials
- E-cigarette information for parents and carers (PDF 128KB)
- E-cigarette information for teachers and schools (PDF 130KB)
- E-cigarette information for children and young people (PDF 635KB)
- E-cigarette types for teachers (PDF 575KB)
- E-cigarette types for parents (PDF 604KB)