Electronic cigarettes are also known as e-cigarettes, e-cigars, vape pens or personal vapourisers. They have not been approved as a quit smoking aid in Australia nor are they listed under the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. Electronic cigarettes work by heating liquid, into a fine vapour for inhalation into the lungs. In some products, this liquid can contain nicotine.
Electronic cigarette products vary widely in design and operation, but typically consist of a battery, heating element, and a cartridge or refillable tank containing a liquid. Although the composition of this liquid varies, it typically contains a range of substances such as propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, liquid nicotine, food-grade flavouring and distilled water.
Concerns about the use of e-cigarettes
There are numerous questions around the safety of e-cigarettes. There are concerns that they:
There is potential for e-cigarettes to continue to further nicotine addiction or tobacco product use and may renormalise the act of smoking. The appeal of flavoured e-cigarettes to children and adolescents is also of concern.
Deliver unreliable doses of nicotine
Dangerous and lethal doses of nicotine can be absorbed through the skin. Nicotine is a poison and can cause serious injury and death.
Contain other unknown, possibly toxic chemicals
Many electronic cigarette cartridges contain other potentially harmful ingredients such as propylene glycol (a solvent used in the production of fog or smoke used in theatrical productions), polyester compounds, anti-freeze, or vegetable glycerine.
Lack proper labelling and unsafe packaging
There are concerns that they have the potential to leak their contents, have unsafe packaging, have no child safety measures, don’t list the presence and/or actual strength of nicotine on the product label and have incorrect or inconsistent labelling.
Are a poisoning risk
They present a significant poisoning risk and could be unsafe to use during pregnancy. Electronic cigarettes are particularly dangerous to younger children who might be attracted by the packaging or flavouring – the fatal dose of nicotine for children is 10 mg.
Current status of e-cigarettes in Australia
In April 2017, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) issued an updated statement on electronic cigarettes which concluded that:
“There is currently insufficient evidence to support claims that e-cigarettes are safe and further research is needed to enable the long-term safety, quality and efficacy of e-cigarettes to be assessed.”
The laws relating to e-cigarettes
Under the Tobacco and Other Smoking Products Act 1998 (Tobacco Act) electronic cigarettes are smoking products and subject to the same laws as tobacco or cigarettes. This means that e-cigarettes cannot be:
- used in existing no-smoking indoor and outdoor places
- sold to children under 18 years of age
- advertised, promoted or displayed at retail outlets
- provided for sale in a vending machine.
Liquid nicotine is illegal
Electronic cigarettes containing liquid nicotine are illegal in Queensland. It is an offence under the Health (Drugs and Poisons) Regulation 1996, for a person to manufacture, obtain, possess, prescribe, dispense, sell, advertise, use or destroy nicotine, unless the person is specifically authorised or holds an approval under the HDPR. This includes importing electronic cigarettes containing nicotine for personal or therapeutic use. The maximum penalty is $9108.
How to safely dispose or surrender them
Electronic cigarettes containing liquid nicotine can be safely disposed of at a community pharmacy or a local public health unit. To report the sale or possession of electronic cigarettes containing liquid nicotine, call 13 QGOV (13 74 68).