Electronic Cigarettes

Personal vaporisers are in some circles referred to as electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and also include devices such as e-cigars, e-pipes, vape pens, hookah pens and e-hookahs. Personal vaporisers are devices designed to produce a vapour that the user inhales. Many devices use an electric element to heat liquid to produce vapour and are used in a manner that simulates smoking, however there are a wide variety of products that differ in their design, operation and appearance. Some devices look like tobacco products, such as cigarettes or pipes, whereas some resemble everyday items such as lipsticks and pens, and others are not designed to resemble a specific product.  

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.

For more information about health impacts, please see our factsheet on the Health impacts of e-cigarettes for children, young people and adults (PDF).

In the ACT, personal vaporisers, including electronic cigarettes are regulated in much the same way as tobacco. It is illegal to sell electronic cigarettes to people under the age of 18 and to use electronic cigarettes in legislated smoke-free areas in the ACT. Restrictions also apply to advertising, displays and marketing.

These measures are designed 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.

The measures follow community consultation in late 2014, which sought community 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 contact the Health Protection Service via email hps@act.gov.au or call on 02 5124 9700



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?

Electronic cigarettes that do not contain nicotine

The sale of electronic cigarettes that do not contain nicotine is currently allowed provided the business holds a tobacco licence, the person purchasing the product is over 18 years, and 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.

Further information for business

In the ACT, wholesale and retail businesses that sell electronic cigarettes or related products (such as heating elements or batteries) must have a licence under the Tobacco and Other Smoking Products Act 1927.

Restrictions also apply to electronic cigarette and related products sales, product displays, advertising and promotion.

In the ACT, electronic cigarettes and related products must not be

  • supplied to people who are younger than 18 years of age;
  • displayed, advertised or promoted at the point-of-sale;
  • included in customer reward schemes, promotions, sponsorships or product giveaways; or
  • sold by vending machine.

These restrictions apply whether or not the electronic cigarettes contain nicotine.

A guide to the sale of smoking products in the ACT to assist businesses that sell electronic cigarettes or related products to meet their obligations has been published on this website.

Are there restrictions on where people can use electronic cigarettes in the ACT?

Use of electronic cigarettes is prohibited in legislated smoke-free areas in the ACT under the Smoke-Free Public Places Act 2003. Electronic cigarette use is prohibited in all enclosed public places, outdoor eating and drinking areas, underage functions, and cars when children are present. Penalties may apply to using electronic cigarettes in these locations.

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

Further information about smoke-free areas in the ACT is available at Smoking Products and Smoke-Free Environments.

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.

Page last updated on: 12 Oct 2021