E-cigarettes and Vaping

Disclaimer: This fact sheet is for education purposes only. Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for your child.

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What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are battery operated devices that heat a liquid (often called e-liquid or vape juice) to produce an aerosol which is inhaled, to mimic the act of smoking. This is often referred to as ‘vaping’. Some liquids used in e-cigarettes to ‘vape’ contain nicotine, while others are nicotine free.

There are two main types of e-cigarettes: (1) devices that may look like cigarettes or USBs. These are usually disposable or rechargeable, and (2) refillable vaporisers or tank systems that do not look like cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are also known as mod pens, electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS), vapes, e-shisha, e-cigars, e-pipes, e-hookah pens.

E-cigarettes and e-liquids may contain nicotine and other harmful substances including propylene glycol, glycerine, diethylene glycol, acetone, formaldehyde, diacetyl, acetaldehyde and acrolein.

Are e-cigarettes and e-liquids safe?

The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has not assessed e-cigarettes or e-liquids, so the quality and safety of these products is unknown. As these products are not regulated, they can include other undisclosed ingredients that make them unsafe.

E-liquids purchased online may contain nicotine concentrations or flavours that are not-approved in Australia.

Hazardous substances have been found in e-cigarette liquids and in the aerosol produced by e-cigarettes. These substances are not considered safe for inhalation and there are still unknown long-term health effects on the developing brain and body.

E-cigarettes that contain nicotine are currently illegal in Australia. However, it is legal to purchase e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine.

From 1st October 2021 it will be illegal to buy nicotine e-cigarettes or nicotine vaping products without a doctor's prescription. The main reason a GP may provide a prescription is for the purposes of smoking cessation. There are currently no approved nicotine e-cigarettes on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG). This means your doctor will need to apply to the TGA for access to the unapproved product before they give you a prescription.

What are the harmful effects of e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes can lead to many health problems.

One of the main ingredients of e-liquids, propylene glycol, can cause eye and respiratory irritation.

E-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine are not safe, because the inhaled vapours can still contain cancer-causing agents, toxins, heavy metals and very fine particles that can cause serious health problems.

Nicotine dependence

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Adolescents and young adults exposed to nicotine can become dependent on nicotine at low levels of exposure.

One nicotine pod can contain as much nicotine as a packet of cigarettes. Vaping may lead to the use of other tobacco products and increase risk of addiction to other substances.

Nicotine may have direct toxic effects on the developing brain, impacting on a young person’s learning, attention, and memory. 

Nicotine is a health danger for pregnant women and developing babies and can damage a developing baby’s brain and lungs.


EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury) is a lung condition associated with excessive exposure to e-cigarettes and vaping, in particular those containing THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. Adolescents and young people in Australia have already been hospitalised due to EVALI.

By February 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported 2807 hospitalised cases and 68 deaths due to EVALI in the USA. EVALI is serious and can be fatal in young people and may result in breathing difficulties that require oxygen therapy and a prolonged period of care in hospital.

Nicotine Poisoning

E-cigarettes and vaping products are often brightly coloured and may attract young children, especially if they have seen a parent or other family member using one. Packaging is not child resistant, which may lead to accidental ingestion of the liquids. 

Inhalation or ingestion of nicotine can result in poisoning or fatality. Some of the symptoms of nicotine poisoning include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, palpitations, wheeze, agitation, seizures and shortness of breath.

If you are concerned that a young child or toddler has ingested or used an e-cigarette or vaping product containing nicotine, please call the NSW Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 and seek medical help. The Poisons Information Centre is a 24/7 service.

Unknown Harmful Effects

As e-cigarettes and vaping products are relatively new, the long term effects of these products on the lungs, brain and on a person’s general health are unknown and are still being investigated.

In Australia, some of the flavouring additives used have been approved for foods and drinks that are consumed orally. Limited data exists about the effects of inhaling these substances into the lungs. Vaping products have the potential to negatively affect oral health and accelerate the development of dental caries.

Harmful Marketing

E-cigarettes and vaping products are heavily marketed to young people through social media and popular culture influencers. Due to this, many young people perceive them as risk free and are unaware of the potential harmful effects of these products.

Many of the tobacco companies have invested heavily in the E-cigarette and vaping industry. They have been criticised for their marketing tactics with a number of court cases occurring overseas.

How to talk to your adolescent about vaping

Your role as a parent and caregiver is important and so is protecting your child from exposure to e-cigarettes and other substances.

One of the most important things you can do is look after your own health and be informed of the risks to our young people.

Some simple strategies when talking to your adolescent about vaping include:

  • Knowing the facts about e-cigarettes and the role of tobacco companies in targeting youth

  • Understanding adolescent risk taking behaviour, peer influence and how to support your child through this stage of development

  • Finding the right moment to have a conversation and approach the topic in a calm manner

  • Be accessible and listen, avoid judgment or lecturing your adolescent

  • Focus on health and explain your concerns

  • Support your adolescent in quitting vapes

Quitting vapes

Adolescents choose to quit for many reasons. Some include improving their health, to feel better about themselves, staying in control, saving money and to do better at school. Some adolescents are able to quit by themselves. However, others might require support from family, friends or health professionals.

Resources such as the I Can Quit website, the Quitline or your General Practitioner (GP) can provide additional support.

Steps to quitting vapes

Step 1 – Choosing a quit date

  • Prepare to quit
  • Commit to quitting sooner rather than later
  • Choose the right date

Step 2 – Knowing the challenges

  • Identify any triggers
  • Develop strategies to manage any triggers
  • Fight the cravings
  • Ease withdrawal symptoms
  • Consider nicotine replacement therapy

Step 3 – Build a support team

  • Family, friends, or health professionals

Source: Prepare to quit


For further help:

  • Contact Quitline 13 78 48
  • Visit icanquit.com.au  or  www.quit.org.au 
  • Download vaping apps – Quit Vaping
  • Contact your GP
  • Contact your local Youth Drug and Alcohol Team/Service


  • E-cigarettes are harmful and fatalities in young people have been reported

  • E-cigarettes containing nicotine are addictive

  • E-cigarettes containing nicotine are currently illegal in Australia

  • Tobacco companies use a wide range of marketing tactics to promote and glamorise e-cigarettes

  • There’s a risk that vaping can normalise smoking and act as a gateway to tobacco cigarettes and other substances

  • Call the NSW Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 and seek medical help, if you are concerned that a young child or toddler has ingested or used an e-cigarette or vaping product containing nicotine 

The Sydney Children's Hospitals Network
Hunter New England Kids Health

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