Healthy living

E-cigarettes and vaping

  • E-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes), also known as vapes, are battery-operated devices designed to deliver vapourised liquids into the lungs when breathed in.
  • Using a vape is often called ‘vaping’.
  • Many vapes contain nicotine making them addictive.
  • Vapes that contain nicotine can cause long-lasting damaging effects on the brain and physical development.
  • Vapes can contain the same harmful chemicals found in cleaning products, nail polish remover, weed killer and bug spray.
  • The nicotine in 1 vape can equal 50 cigarettes. Depending on the size of the vape and nicotine strength, it can be much higher.
  • Vaping has been linked to lung disease.
What are vapes?

E-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes), also known as vapes, are battery-operated devices designed to deliver vapourised liquids into your lungs when you breathe in.

Vapes often come in many shapes and sizes and may look like a cigarette. Others may look like everyday items such as pens, highlighters or USB memory sticks.

What is vaping?

Using a vape is often called ‘vaping’. Vapes heat a liquid that emits an aerosol which is inhaled through a mouthpiece, and then exhaled by the user as a fine-particulate smoke.

The liquid is often called ‘e-liquid’, ‘e-juice’, or ‘vape juice’ and is intended to deliver chemicals directly to the lungs.

E-liquids can come in thousands of different flavours, such as tobacco, confectionery, fruit and other flavours.

The biggest misunderstanding about vapes is that they are harmless compared to cigarettes. This is not true. Vapes are not safe.

Ingredients and harmful chemicals

When you vape, you don't vape water. The main ingredient in vapes is propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine or glycerol, they often contain nicotine, flavours and other chemicals.

Vapes may contain harmful chemicals that aren’t listed on the pack.

When you inhale aerosol from a vape you can be exposed to potentially harmful substances including:

  • nicotine
  • cancer-causing chemicals
  • the same harmful chemicals found in cleaning products, nail polish remover, weed killer and bug spray
  • toxins such as formaldehyde
  • heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead
  • ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
  • flavouring chemicals such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease
  • volatile organic compounds.
Risks to your health and mental health

Vapes may expose you to chemicals at levels that have the potential to cause negative health effects. In the short-term this includes vomiting, nausea and irritation to the throat and lungs. Vaping can impact your lungs, fitness and mental health. Importantly, many of the long-term harms of vaping are still unknown.

Serious lung disease

Vaping has been linked to serious lung disease.

Long-lasting damaging effects on the brain and physical development

Vapes containing nicotine can cause long-lasting damaging effects on the brain and physical development. The impacts can include impaired attention, learning, memory and changes in mood.

Vapes have even been known to explode causing serious burns

There have been several cases reported where e-cigarette batteries or devices have overheated, caught fire or exploded. This can cause serious and in some cases life-threatening injury, disability and disfigurement.

Nicotine poisoning

If e-liquids that contain nicotine are swallowed or absorbed through the skin, it can result in poisoning which can be severe and even fatal. Too much nicotine from using vapes can also cause nicotine poisoning.

Mental health risks

Vaping nicotine can make symptoms of depression and anxiety worse.

Research shows the more someone uses nicotine, the higher their risk is for depression and anxiety.

Second-hand exposure to harmful substances

The aerosol that users inhale and exhale from e-cigarettes can expose both themselves and bystanders to harmful substances.

Nicotine addiction

Even though the packs don't say it, most vapes contain high levels of nicotine, like cigarettes. You can become addicted to nicotine very quickly and find it difficult to stop vaping. The nicotine in 1 vape can equal 50 cigarettes. Depending on the size of the vape and nicotine strength, it can be much higher.

Symptoms of nicotine addition

The symptoms of nicotine addiction from vapes are the same as cigarettes, and can make you feel:

  • irritable
  • anxious
  • experience intense cravings to vape.

You may also experience a lack of concentration when you can't vape and have trouble sleeping.

Young people who vape are three times as likely to start smoking

Vaping among young people is strongly linked to the use of other tobacco products such as regular cigarettes, cigars, shisha and smokeless tobacco.

Research shows young people are three times as likely to start smoking if you vape.

Laws in Western Australia

In WA, e-cigarette devices and their components cannot be sold by tobacco or general retailers. It is also illegal to sell vapes to friends at school or in the community.

It is illegal to sell, supply or possess nicotine vaping products (or any liquid that contains nicotine) without a prescription from a doctor, including products imported from overseas.

If you suspect someone is selling vapes or e-cigarettes you can report it to the Department of Health by emailing TobaccoPolicy@health.wa.gov.au

Read more about the laws in WA on the e-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes) page.

Support is available

Young people

If you are a young person and need support, speak with your parents, teacher or student services staff.

You can also contact the WA Quitline on 13 7848 (13 QUIT), or via web chat (external site).

Parents and carers

If you suspect your child is vaping, take the time to talk to them about it and help them understand all of the risks.

Try to start the conversation with your child in a relaxed easy-going way, perhaps taking the cue from around you, such as a note from school, a news story about it, or seeing people vaping on the street. And have your facts ready.

If your child is vaping, encourage them to stop and let them know that help is available, and you are there for them. Stopping vaping can sometimes be hard and your child may need advice from a GP.

For information and support you can also contact the WA Quitline (external site) on 13 7848 (13 QUIT). Quitline counsellors can answer any questions you may have about e-cigarettes and can help you think of ways to approach the conversation.

If e-liquids that contain nicotine are swallowed or absorbed through the skin, it can result in nicotine poisoning. Too much nicotine from using vapes can cause nicotine poisoning. If you think someone has been poisoned by liquid nicotine, please call the WA Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 immediately or 000 if it is an emergency. For more information see the WA Poisons Information Centre (external site).

More information

Department of Health WA acknowledges NSW Health’s authorship and ownership of Do you know what you’re vaping? (external site) campaign. The campaign and resources are evidence-based (see Vaping evidence summary – Tobacco and smoking (external site).


Last reviewed: 09-08-2022
Acknowledgements

Public Health