Unveil what you inhale

Do you know what’s inside the flavoured e-liquid you use in your e-cigarette or vape? 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 Australia. The research unveiled a cocktail of chemicals which raise serious concerns about the safety of these products and their risks the respiratory health of young people.

The evidence

The ground-breaking study conducted by Curtin University on 52 flavoured e-liquids for sale over the counter in Australia found: 


of the e-liquids were inaccurately labelled


contained chemicals with unknown effects on respiratory health


contained nicotine despite this being illegal in Australia


contained chemicals likely to be toxic if vaped repeatedly.

The research was unveiled at the national Vaping and Young People Roundtable on Thursday 3 December 2020, hosted by Lung Foundation Australia with the support of nib Foundation. The virtual event drew leading health experts, lawyers, government representatives and young people.


Do you know what you are inhaling?

Many of the chemicals found in the 52 e-liquids studied have known health impacts, some cause severe irritation when inhaled and others are linked to the development of lung cancer. Other chemicals found in the e-liquids, whilst safe for use in other consumer or retail products, have not been tested for their impacts on short or long-term respiratory health; their lung health impacts remain unknown.

Respiratory illness or disease


Commonly used in disinfectant Severely irritates the respiratory tract & causes fluid retention

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

Occurs in petroleum Linked to the development of lung cancer

Addictive and toxic effects


Highly addictive stimulant Toxic effects


Used in cosmetics Slows the progression of nicotine

The unknown


Used to euthanise fish Unknown respiratory impacts

Propylene glycol

Used in paint Unknown long-term effects on inhalation


Protecting young people

Despite a decrease in the prevalence of smoking, from 2016-2019 the portion of young people aged 18-24 who have used e-cigarettes in their lifetime has increased from 19.1% to 26%.

It is illegal for flavoured e-liquids sold in Australia to contain nicotine. Despite this, 21% of the e-liquids tested in this study contained the toxic and addictive chemical. With the inclusion of fruit, alcohol and confectionary flavours, e-cigarettes are essentially targeted at young people who often find these flavours fun and exciting.

In addition to the known and unknown risks to lung health, e-liquids containing nicotine can harm the adolescent brain as it develops to adulthood.  Nicotine has the potential to damage the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control, making e-cigarette use among young people particularly concerning.

As Australia’s leading lung health organisation, Lung Foundation Australia strongly believes the only thing humans should be breathing is clean air. Young Australians have the right to make decisions and choices based on real evidence, to protect their respiratory health, not slick marketing campaigns or pressurised social media influencing.

We’re calling on all governments to sharpen their focus on the health and legal implications of selling flavoured e-cigarettes as a consumer product to Australians.

In collaboration: