Skip to content

What are e-cigarettes or vapes?

Vapes, E-cigarettes, or electronic cigarettes, are battery operated devices that heat a liquid (called “e-liquid”) to produce a vapour that users inhale (called vaping).  They are designed to deliver nicotine and/or other chemicals via an aerosol vapour directly to your lungs (also referred to as vape or e-liquid nicotine). E-cigarettes do not generally contain tobacco and products vary in terms of ingredients and designs.

Some e-cigarettes look a lot like traditional cigarettes while others look like everyday items such as pens, USB memory sticks, and larger cylindrical or rectangular devices. Some e-cigarettes and e-liquids contain nicotine while others do not

e-cigarettes variety and their e-liquids lined up for comparison

E-cigarettes and e-liquids containing nicotine are referred to as Nicotine Vaping Products (NVP).

All e-cigarettes have three basic components: a battery, an atomiser and a fluid cartridge. The fluid used in e-cigarettes usually contains propylene glycol, glycerol, nicotine and added flavourings.

Are e-cigarettes legal in SA?

E-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine are legal in South Australia. Adults aged 18 and over can buy and use e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine. Buyers should be aware that these devices may still contain nicotine, despite their labelling.

Nicotine Vaping Products are a prescription only medicine in South Australia. It is illegal for retailers (other than pharmacies) to sell e-cigarettes or e-liquids that contain nicotine, including online sales. Nicotine Vaping Products imported into South Australia for personal use also require a valid prescription.

The following regulations also apply to e-cigarettes in South Australia:

  • The sale of e-cigarettes to minors under the age of 18 is banned
  • E-cigarette advertising and in-store promotions, including displays, are banned
  • The use of e-cigarettes in cars with minors under the age of 16 years is banned
  • Businesses wanting to sell e-cigarettes are required to have a Retail Tobacco and E-Cigarette Merchant’s License
  • The use of e-cigarettes in indoor and outdoor areas where it is illegal to smoke tobacco products (e.g. in workplaces, on public transport, in restaurants, near children’s play equipment) is banned.

For more information about laws relating to e-cigarettes visit the SA Health website

Are e-cigarettes safe?

No, e-cigarettes are not considered a ‘safe’ product to use. Many people incorrectly believe that e-cigarettes only produce flavoured water vapour. The following health risks associated with e-cigarette use have already been identified.

  • There is emerging evidence that vaping nicotine increases blood pressure, heart rate and arterial stiffness.1 This could potentially increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. 1
  • • E-cigarette products can cause accidental and intentional nicotine poisoning (including deaths).2,3 Young children are particularly vulnerable to nicotine poisoning which can occur when they are exposed through uncapped vials, sucking on the mouthpiece, inhaling or drinking the e-liquid, eating the cartridge or having liquid splashed in the eye.3 Just one millilitre can be fatal if ingested by a child.3 In 2018, accidental nicotine poisoning caused the death of a toddler in Victoria.4 Between 2009 and 2016 there were 202 calls to Australian Poisons Information Centres about e-cigarette exposures.3 Of the calls, 38 per cent were from a concerned parent or carer of a child who had been exposed to the e-liquid of an e-cigarette, 62 per cent were from adults or teenagers about side effects, accidental ingestion or eye splashes, and 12 calls followed deliberate administration for self-harm.3
  • E-cigarette use has been associated with seizures amongst teenagers and young adults5
  • There has been an increase in the number of burn injuries and fires from exploding e-cigarette batteries. 6,7,8,9
  • E-cigarettes contain ingredients that are generally safe for eating or skin contact, but the long-term effects on health when they are heated, aerosolised and inhaled are unknown and could potentially compromise lung function.10
    Examples include:

– hexadecanoic and octadecanoic acids, which are used in foods, soaps and detergents
– flavourings such as anisaldehyde, menthol, vanillin, ethylvanillin
– amino acids typically found in faeces and urine of animals, and are present potentially due to contamination during the manufacturing process.10

  • Known carcinogens have been found in e-cigarette aerosols, although the extent to which e-cigarette use increases the risk of cancer remains unknown.11
  • They may expose users and bystanders to a range of chemicals and toxins that cause adverse health effects, and may increase the risk of developing cardiovascular, cancer and respiratory diseases.12 Ingredients include chemicals found in cleaning products, nail polish remover, weed killer and insecticides.13 These harmful ingredients are not commonly listed on the product.12
  • E-cigarettes sold in Australia have been found to be labelled incorrectly and may contain nicotine, even when they claim on the packaging that no nicotine is present.10, 14 Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical, and one e-cigarette can contain as much nicotine as 50 cigarettes.13
  • No e-cigarette product comes with a comprehensive ingredients list, so users are largely unaware of what the liquid contains.12,13

Do e-cigarettes help smokers quit?

There is currently no strong or conclusive evidence to show that e-cigarettes are an effective tobacco cessation aid. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has not approved any e-cigarette product as a cessation aid to help with quitting smoking. There are many other TGA approved products such as medication, patches, gum, lozenges, mouth spray and inhalators that can be used as quitting aids These products are proven to be safe to use and are shown to increase chances of quitting smoking, especially when combined with Quitline counselling support.

Smokers who are looking to quit can get help and support from GPs or pharmacists, or by calling Quitline 13 7848.

As of 1 October 2021, consumers will need a prescription to access Nicotine Vaping Products as a smoking cessation aid from overseas. A prescription is already required to purchase Nicotine Vaping Products from Australian pharmacies.

  1. Chaumont M, de Becker B, Zaher W, et al. Differential effects of e-cigarette on microvascular endothelial function, arterial stiffness and oxidative stress: a randomized crossover trial. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):10378. Doi:10.1038/s41598-018-28723-0, Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6039507/
  2. National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine. Public health consequences of e-cigarettes. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC 2018. Available from: http://nationalacademies.org/hmd/Reports/2018/public-health-consequences-of-e-cigarettes.aspx.
  3. Carol Wylie, Aaron Heffernan, Jared A Brown, Rose Cairns, Ann‐Maree Lynch and Jeff Robinson. Exposures to e‐cigarettes and their refills: calls to Australian Poisons Information Centres, 2009–2016, Med J Aust 2019; 210 (3): 126. || doi: 10.5694/mja2.12032
  4. Coroners Court of Victoria, Liquid Nicotine Awareness Needed Media Release, viewed 22 March 2022. Available from: https://www.coronerscourt.vic.gov.au/liquid-nicotine-awareness-needed#:~:text=The%20death%20of%20an%2018,dangers%20of%20the%20vaping%20substance.
  5. Faulcon LM, Rudy S, Limpert J, Wang B, Murphy I. Adverse experience reports of seizures in youth and young adult electronic nicotine delivery systems users. J Adolesc Health. 2020;66(1):15-17. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.10.002 . Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X19304823?via%3Dihub
  6. Harshman J, Vojvodic M, and Rogers AD. Burns associated with e-cigarette batteries: A case series and literature review. CJEM, 2017:1–9. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28566106
  7. Jiwani AZ, Williams JF, Rizzo JA, Chung KK, King BT, et al. Thermal injury patterns associated with electronic cigarettes. Int J Burns Trauma, 2017; 7(1):1–5. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28123861
  8. Nicoll KJ, Rose AM, Khan MA, Quaba O, and Lowrie AG. Thigh burns from exploding e-cigarette lithium ion batteries: First case series. Burns, 2016. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27118069
  9. U.S. Fire Administration. Electronic cigarette fires and explosions. 2014. Available from: https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/electronic_cigarettes.pdf
  10. Chivers E, Janka M, Franklin P, Mullins B and Larcombe A Med J Aust 2019; Nicotine and other potentially harmful compounds in “nicotine-free” e-cigarette liquids in Australia 210 (3): 127-128. || doi: 10.5694/mja2.12059, Available from: https://www.mja.com.au/system/files/2019-02/mja212059.pdf
  11. Bozier et al. 2019. The Evolving Landscape of Electronic Cigarettes: A systematic review of recent evidence, CHEST. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32006591
  12. Alexander Larcombe, Sebastien Allard, Paul Pringle, Ryan Mead‐Hunter, Natalie Anderson and Benjamin Mullins, Chemical analysis of fresh and aged Australian e‐cigarette liquids, Med J Aust 2022; 216 (1): 27-32. || doi: 10.5694/mja2.51280
  13. NSW Health, The Facts about Vaping, Available from: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/vaping
  14. NSW Health. NSW health alert – warning on e-liquids. 2013. Available from: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/news/Pages/20131023_00.aspx

You might also be interested in

This page was last reviewed in March 2022