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Vapes: general information

What are vapes?

E-cigarettes, also known as ‘vapes’, are battery operated devices that work by heating a liquid ('e-liquid' or ‘juice’) until it becomes an aerosol that users inhale.

  • E-liquid contains many different chemicals. Sticky chemicals called propylene glycol and glycerol(12,13) make up most of the e-liquid.

  • E-liquids usually contain highly addictive nicotine and a mix of flavouring chemicals. They may also contain coolants (chemicals that produce a cooling sensation in the mouth).

  • Contaminants(14) have also been found in many e-liquids. These include toxic metals (which leach off the solid surface of the vape directly into the liquid), such as arsenic, and toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde. Many of these contaminants are inhaled by the users.

What are the health risks associated with vaping?

  • Many of the chemicals in vapes have health risks. These include chemicals that are known causes of cancer, heart disease or lung disease(1)

  • There are signs of lung function(6) problems in some people who vape. These people may be at higher risk of lung disease in the future

  • Vaping during pregnancy may harm the developing baby. There is some evidence that babies whose mothers vaped during pregnancy have a higher risk of low weight at birth(8,9,10)

  • People who vape risk injuries and burns from exploding devices

  • The health effects of vapes for people who smoke tobacco include nausea, headache, throat irritation, cough, dizziness, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure(6)

  • Disposable vapes are almost impossible to discard in an environmentally-responsibly way, posing risks to the environment.

Researchers have concluded that vapes present very real dangers to children and young people. The increasing rate of vaping by young people is concerning because:

  • people who have never smoked who use vapes are more likely to take up smoking than people who do not vape

  • nicotine may change the structure and function of the developing brain.

For more information on the health risks of vaping for young people, visit:

Are the contents of vapes and e-liquids regulated by government?

In Australia, laws that regulate the safety of other products like food and medicines do not apply to vapes except when they are prescribed. That means the making of, contents and labelling of vapes bought outside a pharmacy are not specifically regulated. 

Devices purchased from an Australian pharmacy (if a health professional prescribes vapes to help someone stop smoking) are required to meet some basic quality and safety standards. For example, vapes bought on prescription are not allowed to contain certain chemicals that are known to cause harm when inhaled. However, the basic quality and safety standards that apply to prescription vaping products are not as stringent as those which ordinarily apply to prescription medicines in Australia, and the long-term health effects of prescribed vaping products are still unknown.

Are vapes legal?

NOTE: On 2 May 2023, the Federal Government announced plans to introduce major changes to Australia’s e-cigarette (vape) laws. In particular, the Government plans to introduce new laws stopping the importation and sale of all non-prescription vape products across Australia. 

On 1 January 2024, the Commonwealth Government introduced new laws banning the importation of all disposable single use vapes into Australia (regardless of whether they contain nicotine). 
In parallel with this ban, a new ‘Special Access Scheme’ pathway to prescribe vapes also began on 1 January 2024. This pathway is intended to reduce the amount of ‘red tape’ involved for medical practitioners and nurse practitioners who choose to prescribe a vape product to help a patient quit smoking. 

Several other new laws are expected to come into force throughout 2024. These include: 

  • From 1 March 2024 - The importation of all non-prescription vaping products (including reusable products) is expected to be banned.  

  • Later in 2024 – New laws prohibiting the manufacture, sale and commercial possession of all non-prescription vaping products within Australia are expected to come into force. There is no proposed start date for these laws yet. 

The information below discusses the laws that are in place as of February 2024. This page will be updated as soon as possible to reflect the Government’s new laws, as they come into force throughout 2024. For further information on recent developments in this area, see the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and Department of Health and Aged Care websites.  

At the moment in Australia, different laws apply to vapes that contain nicotine and vapes that don’t contain nicotine. 

Vapes and e-liquids that contain nicotine can only be sold to people with a valid prescription, and may only be sold in pharmacies (not retail stores). It is illegal to buy a vape or e-liquid that contains nicotine without a valid prescription. 

Vapes that do not contain nicotine can currently be sold in most Australian states and territories. However, it is illegal to: 

  • sell a vape or accessory (including e-liquid) to a person under 18 years old, whether or not it contains nicotine; 

  • vape in a legislated smokefree area, whether or not it contains nicotine. 

In Western Australia, it is illegal to sell a vape to anyone (regardless of whether it contains nicotine), unless the device is sold by a pharmacy and the person buying the device has a valid prescription. 

For further information on e-cigarette regulation, see Position Statement on Electronic Cigarettes

Can vapes harm the environment?

Yes. Discarded broken vapes can leach chemicals into soil and water, be eaten by animals, or puncture, explode or burn.

Disposable vapes contain single-use plastics, lithium batteries and metals. Chemicals from the battery may leech into the soil causing environmental harm.

There are no recycling programs for vapes. Most are made of single-use plastic and contain lithium-ion batteries that cannot be removed and can cause fires in waste facilities and landfills.

Can vapes help with quitting smoking?

It is important you talk to your doctor about your options to help you stop smoking. Some doctors may prescribe nicotine vaping products when a person has been unable to quit after trying a number of other options. However, unlike most prescription medicines, nicotine vaping products are “unapproved” products. This means that Australia’s medicines regulator has not assessed any vaping products on their safety, quality, or how well they work for helping people quit smoking.

More research is needed on the harms of vaping products and their use in quitting smoking. Australian medical guidelines recommend that if prescribed, nicotine vaping products be used together with a counselling service, such as Quitline. Quitline counsellors can support people who are using nicotine or non-nicotine vaping products to stop smoking.

Research shows the best way to stop smoking for good is if you:

  1. Speak with a general practitioner (GP) or pharmacist. A GP or pharmacist can discuss options and provide advice on stop smoking medication like nicotine patches, lozenges or gum or prescribed tablets. See What to ask your GP or pharmacist.

  1. Talk to Quitline (13 7848). Quitline counsellors are qualified in helping people break free from smoking. Quitline counsellors help build and sustain a person’s motivation to quit and help them create a stop smoking plan that suits them. Read more about how Quitline can help.

  1. Use stop smoking medication, like the nicotine patch and lozenges or prescribed stop smoking tablets, to help manage cravings and feelings of nicotine withdrawal.

Last updated February 2024.

E-cigarettes and teens: what you need to know

Resources for parents, teachers and teens explaining the risks associated with e-cigarette use among teens:
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The dangers of nicotine in vaping liquid

Nicotine in vaping liquid (or e-liquid), the fluid used in vaping products or e-cigarettes, can cause poisoning.
Find out more

Explore other support options

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