New regulations announced for vaping products:
On the 2nd of May 2023, Federal Health Minister Hon. Mark Butler announced changes to vaping products and an investment of $737 million in the 2023-24 budget to fund measures to protect public health from tobacco and vaping. These measures aim to help address the significant threat to public health caused by recreational use of vaping products. The proposed new reforms will ban the importation of non-nicotine vaping products however, nicotine vaping products will still be accessible via a prescription for smoking cessation.
What is vaping?
Vaping is the act of using an e-cigarette, or ‘vape,’ which are lithium battery-powered devices that use cartridges filled with liquids, or ‘juice.’ The liquids typically contain nicotine, artificial flavourings, and various chemicals, some of which have been shown to be toxic. The liquid is heated into an aerosol, or vapour, and inhaled into the user’s lungs.
Vaping in Australia
It is illegal to use, sell or buy nicotine for use in e-cigarettes in Australia without a prescription. Except for Western Australia, each state and territory allows the sale of non-nicotine vapes and e-cigarettes products for those aged 18 years and over.*
Recreational vaping by youths and young adults has increased significantly in the last few years, exposing children and non-smokers to harmful health impacts. In 2023, 14.5% of Australians aged 14-17 years currently vape and this increased to almost 20% for Australians aged 18-24 years.1 Despite causing known health harms, vaping products continue to be used recreationally by young people.
*Evidence shows the vast majority of non-nicotine vapes contain nicotine which is illegal.
What is in vapes?
Some vapes are designed to look similar to tobacco cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, while others resemble everyday items, such as pens and USBs. Even though e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco many liquids still contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, as well as other chemicals. These chemicals can be toxic when they are inhaled. Some are included to add a fruit, alcohol, or confectionary flavour to the product. In a pioneering study, funded by Lung Foundation Australia, Minderoo Foundation and the Scottish Masonic Charitable Foundation WA, researchers at Curtin University tested the chemicals and toxicity of 52 flavoured e-liquids available for sale over the counter in Australia2. The research unveiled a cocktail of chemicals which raise serious concerns about the safety of these products and their risks to the respiratory health of young people.
What is being done?
The federal reforms (once implemented) will protect young people from the harms of vaping products, and we congratulate the Australian Government for taking strong action. States and territories across Australia continue to tackle growing vaping rates by seizing illegal nicotine vaping products from stores, introducing educational material into schools and running health campaigns to highlight the health harms of vaping.
Vaping and young people
E-cigarettes can serve as a “gateway” to nicotine addiction and tobacco cigarette smoking. There have been many studies which found experimentation with e-cigarettes encouraged the use of tobacco cigarettes, particularly among young people. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 1 in 5 (21.7%) young Australians aged 18-24 and 7.6% of 15-17 year olds have used an e-cigarette or vaping device at least. It’s likely that these figures are under-reported because responses were provided by an adult living in the same household.
Research of e-liquids available to purchase over the counter in Australia found 1 in 5 contain nicotine, among a concoction of other toxic chemicals – all had inaccurate labelling. With the inclusion of fruit, alcohol and confectionary flavours, e-cigarettes are designed to appeal to young people. Experts are concerned these products will create another generation of nicotine addiction and a rise in serious health issues including lung disease and cancer.
Lung Foundation Australia has developed a suite of resources to fill the knowledge gap around vaping and e-cigarettes. These resources are designed by and for young Australians, educators and parents and carers, to arm you with accurate and evidenced-based information.
In some cases, doctors can prescribe nicotine e-cigarettes as a means of weaning off tobacco use. There is little evidence that using this method is successful in achieving this outcome. Nicotine e-cigarettes should be a last resort for smoking cessation when other strategies are unsuccessful. From 1 October 2021, the Australian government introduced further restrictions to limit access to the use of nicotine e-cigarettes among adolescents and young adults. This included requiring a valid prescription to import nicotine e-cigarettes and liquids containing nicotine.
Health impacts of vaping
Vaping is unsafe and potentially dangerous. While the long-term health effects are unclear, we do know that vaping in the short-term has been associated with nausea, vomiting, mouth and airway irritation, chest pain and heart palpitations. There is a common misconception that vaping is merely harmless water vapour — in fact, it’s an aerosol made up of toxic particles.
These aerosols contain and emit many harmful compounds, including:
- Formaldehyde and acrolein, which can cause irreversible lung damage
- Propylene glycol, which is toxic to human cells
- Nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm the still-developing adolescent brain, particularly in areas that control attention, learning, mood and behavioural control.
In 2022, the Australian National University released a review of the international evidence on the harms of vaping.
The health harms associated with vaping include:
- Nicotine addiction
- Intentional and unintentional poisoning
- Acute nicotine toxicity causing seizures
- Burns and injuries
- Lung injury
- Indoor air pollution
- Environmental waste and fires
- Dual use with cigarette smoking – increasing exposure to harmful toxins.3
Additionally, vaping is associated with the uptake of cigarette smoking and can be considered a ‘gateway’ to further risk and health complications.
Unveil the truth behind vaping and vape juice (liquid) with accurate and evidenced-based information developed by young people, for young people.
Parents and carers
Learn the latest research and information to engage in meaningful conversations with young people about the dangers of vaping.
1 Wakefield, M., Haynes, A., Tabbakh, T., Scollo, M., Durkin, S. (2023). Current vaping and current smoking in the Australian population aged 14+ years: February 2018-March 2023. Report prepared for the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care.
2 A Larcombe, S Allard, P Pringle, R Mead-Hunter, N Anderson, B Mullins. Chemical analysis of fresh and aged Australian e-cigarette. doi:10.5694/mja2.51280.
3 Banks E, Yazidjoglou A, Brown S, Nguyen M, Martin M, Beckwith K, Daluwatta A, Campbell S, Joshy G. Electronic cigarettes and health outcomes: systematic review of global evidence. Report for the Australian Department of Health. National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Canberra: April 2022.