Electronic Cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes are devices that heat liquid to produce a vapour that the user inhales. They are also known as personal vaporisers, e-cigarettes, e-cigs, electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and alternative nicotine delivery systems (ANDS), amongst other names.

Electronic cigarettes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles. Some look like tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars or pipes, whereas others look like items such as pens and electronic devices. Most electronic cigarettes contain a battery, a liquid cartridge and a vaporisation system.  Although the composition of liquids varies, most contain a range of chemicals such as flavouring agents and solvents. Electronic cigarettes may or may not contain nicotine, and the label may not accurately reflect their nicotine content. 

The risks and benefits of electronic cigarettes are not fully known and are the subject of debate among health experts. Some advocate the potential of electronic cigarettes to reduce tobacco related harm, whereas others suggest their use will undermine efforts to denormalise tobacco smoking.

The ACT Government is concerned to protect the progress made in the last few decades to encourage people not to smoke. In particular, the ACT Government wants to prevent the uptake of electronic cigarettes by non-smokers, including children and young people, and to protect non-users from exposure to electronic cigarette vapour.

Community consultation was undertaken in late 2014 to seek views on options to address the sale and use of electronic cigarettes in the ACT. For further information on the community consultation, please visit the electronic cigarettes community consultation webpage.

For more information about electronic cigarettes, please refer to the headings below or contact the Health Protection Service on 6205 1700 or email hps@act.gov.au.  

Are electronic cigarettes safe?

Can electronic cigarettes be sold in the ACT?

Where can people use electronic cigarettes in the ACT?

Can electronic cigarettes help people quit smoking?

Where can I get help to quit smoking?


Are electronic cigarettes safe?

There is insufficient evidence to conclude that electronic cigarettes are safe. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is currently funding Australian research into the safety of electronic cigarettes and their effectiveness in helping people to quit smoking.

Although using electronic cigarettes may be less harmful than tobacco in terms of exposure to toxic chemicals, they are unlikely to be completely harmless. Electronic cigarettes have not been proven to be safe and they could pose health risks to users and bystanders. Some research has indicated that bystanders can be passively exposed to vapour exhaled by personal vaporiser users, which can include harmful chemicals, particulate matter and, in some cases, nicotine.

Exposure of users and bystanders to potentially harmful chemicals

Electronic cigarette vapours and liquids can contain chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic. Some studies show that harmful chemicals in electronic cigarette vapour are typically present at lower levels than in tobacco smoke, however some can be present at similar levels to tobacco smoke (such as formaldehyde).

Inhalation of particulate matter by users and bystanders

Some studies have shown that electronic cigarette vapour contains particulate matter — very small particles that can be breathed in to the lungs. Exposure to particulate matter can worsen existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma and bronchitis, and increase the risk of developing cardiovascular or respiratory disease.

Exposure of users and bystanders to nicotine

Some electronic cigarettes are labelled as containing nicotine, whereas others are labelled as being nicotine-free.  However, some electronic cigarettes labelled as being nicotine-free have been shown to contain nicotine.

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Concerns have been raised that exposure to nicotine through electronic cigarettes may provide a gateway to nicotine addiction and tobacco use.

Nicotine can have a range of short-term and long-term health effects if it is swallowed, inhaled or comes into contact with skin. Acute nicotine poisoning can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, tachycardia and, in extreme cases, coma or death. Long-term exposure to nicotine has been linked to adverse reproductive health outcomes.

Electronic cigarettes are not subject to the manufacturing and safety controls that apply to therapeutic goods. Electronic cigarettes may deliver unpredictable doses of nicotine by inhalation, and may also pose a risk of inadvertent exposure through skin contact or ingestion of the liquid. 

Electronic cigarettes and liquids should be kept out of the reach of children. Swallowing electronic cigarette liquid or spilling the liquid on skin can cause harm, and is particularly dangerous if the liquid contains nicotine.

Can electronic cigarettes be sold in the ACT?

The sale of some types of electronic cigarettes may currently be restricted under public health laws, depending on whether they contain nicotine or make a therapeutic claim.

Electronic cigarettes that do not contain nicotine

The sale of electronic cigarettes that do not contain nicotine is currently allowed under public health laws in the ACT, provided that no therapeutic claim is made about the product.

Electronic cigarettes that contain nicotine

The sale and possession of electronic cigarettes that contain nicotine is illegal without a licence under the Medicines, Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act 2008.  Approval has not been granted for the supply of nicotine for use in electronic cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes that make a therapeutic claim

It is illegal to supply electronic cigarettes that make a therapeutic claim, such as “This product will help to quit smoking.” Only products that are registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) may carry a therapeutic claim.  There are currently no electronic cigarette products, with or without nicotine, registered with the TGA as therapeutic goods.

Note:  The ACT Government has announced plans to introduce restrictions on the sale and promotion of electronic cigarettes.  Measures will be introduced from 2016 to: prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to people under 18 years of age; prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes by vending machine; and place restrictions on the advertising, display and marketing of electronic cigarettes by businesses.

The measures aim to protect children, young people and non-smokers from exposure to electronic cigarette use, pending further evidence on the safety of the devices and their emissions.

The ACT Government is not pursuing an outright ban on electronic cigarettes.  A ban on sweet, fruit and confectionary flavoured electronic cigarettes is also not being pursued at this time.  Although electronic cigarettes have not been approved as a therapeutic device, the ACT Government is aware that some smokers are using electronic cigarettes to support their quit smoking attempts.

Further information on the introduction of the measures will be provided on this website as it becomes available.

Where can people use electronic cigarettes in the ACT?

Currently, there are no restrictions on places where electronic cigarettes can be used in the ACT. Electronic cigarettes are not directly captured under the Smoke-Free Public Places Act 2003. 

Individual establishments and workplaces may develop their own policies in relation to the use of electronic cigarettes, which may include banning the use of electronic cigarettes on their premises.

Note:  The ACT Government has announced plans to ban the use of electronic cigarettes in existing smoke-free areas.  These areas include all enclosed public places, outdoor eating and drinking areas, at underage functions, and in cars when children are present.

The measure, to be introduced from 2016, is aimed at protecting bystanders from exposure to electronic cigarette emissions and helping to ensure that electronic cigarettes do not contribute to once again making smoking socially acceptable.

Further information on the introduction of new smoke-free arrangements will be provided on this website as it becomes available.

Can electronic cigarettes help people quit smoking?

Electronic cigarettes have not been assessed by Australia’s medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), and their safety and effectiveness is unknown. Before a product can claim that it can help with quitting smoking or managing nicotine withdrawal symptoms, it must be assessed and approved by the TGA for safety and efficacy.

There is currently not enough evidence to demonstrate whether electronic cigarettes are a safe and effective way to help people to quit smoking.

Where can I get help to quit smoking?

Smokers wishing to quit are encouraged to talk to their general practitioner. There is a range of nicotine replacement therapies and prescription medications which have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and have been tested for effectiveness, as well as safety. 

Support and information is also available from the Quitline (13 78 48) or via the Quit Now website.