E-cigarettes and personal vaporisers
What are e-cigarettes and vaping?
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat e-cigarette liquids to make an emission intended for inhalation. The emission consists of very fine particles (aerosols) that are inhaled by the user.
The use of e-cigarettes is often called vaping.
Our work on e-cigarette liquids
To date, there has been limited information about:
- the chemicals in e-cigarette liquids sold in Australia
- the chemicals in e-cigarette emissions
- the health concerns of these chemicals
To address the lack of public information surrounding e-cigarettes, NICNAS completed an investigation and published a report in 2019, 'Non-nicotine liquids for e-cigarette devices in Australia chemistry and health concerns'.
The report provides information about the identity and known hazards of chemicals available for vaping. However, there isn’t enough information available about the inhalation toxicity of these chemicals to conclusively assess their health risks.
In August 2019 the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an advisory for an outbreak of severe lung disease in people using e-cigarettes, resulting in death in some cases. The Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer and State and Territory Chief Health Officers addressed these concerns in a statement entitled ‘E-cigarettes linked to severe lung illness’. In February 2020 the CDC reported that efforts by the CDC, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and US state health authorities strongly link vitamin E acetate in e-cigarette liquid to the outbreak. However they noted that evidence is not sufficient to rule out the contribution of other chemicals of concern.
E-cigarettes liquids and devices that do not contain vitamin E acetate are still not safe for use. The Australian Department of Health continues to advise that all e-cigarettes are not safe and that they contain chemicals that may be harmful when inhaled or ingested.
The Ministerial Drug and Alcohol Forum, which includes Commonwealth, state and territory Ministers, agreed to a set of updated national guiding principles for e-cigarettes. The principles reaffirm the precautionary approach to e-cigarettes being taken by all Australian governments.
What chemicals are inhaled during vaping?
People who vape are exposed to a range of chemicals.
- Chemicals intentionally included in e-cigarette liquids: many of these are flavouring chemicals and it is unknown if these chemicals are safe when inhaled.
- Chemicals produced when e-cigarette liquid is heated: many of these chemicals could be harmful to human health.
- Chemicals present as contaminants in e-cigarette liquid: some of these chemicals can also be harmful to human health.
What about e-cigarettes that contain nicotine?
Some e-cigarette liquids sold in other countries contain nicotine, but these cannot legally be sold in Australia.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) regulates nicotine and products containing nicotine. Nicotine is currently classified as a dangerous poison under Schedule 7 of the Poisons Standard.
It has specific exemptions:
- for certain nicotine replacement therapies
- for tobacco prepared and packed for smoking
- when labelled and packed for the treatment of animals
Drugs, poisons and controlled substances legislation in all states and territories prohibit the commercial supply of nicotine for use in e-cigarettes.
Importing and manufacturing the chemicals in e-cigarette
Chemicals used in e-cigarette that do not contain nicotine or are not marketed as having a therapeutic use - such as being an aid to smoking cessation - are regulated as industrial chemicals in Australia.
Anyone who introduces an industrial chemical into Australia must register with us and categorise their introduction into 1 of 5 categories. See ‘Categorisation of chemicals in e-cigarettes and personal vaporisers’ for more information.