Is vaping safe? What to know about e-cigarettes

It’s been touted as a way to help smokers kick the habit, but vaping has also been linked to deaths and lung disease. So is it worth the risk?

Vaping is becoming increasingly popular among young Australians, and the practice is commonly pitched as a tool for helping people to quit smoking.

A number of recent deaths and a rise in severe lung illnesses related to vaping devices has prompted several US states to ban e-cigarettes.

So what do you need to know about vaping?

What is vaping?

Vaping essentially simulates smoking using an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) or handheld vaping device.

The vapouriser is filled with a liquid that can contain nicotine, flavourings or chemicals, which, when heated, creates a vapour that is inhaled by the user.

What do vaping liquids contain?

There are varying kinds of e-liquids, some even flavoured.

E-liquids may contain nicotine, as well as propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine or glycerol, and other chemicals (including those used to create flavours).

But the sale of nicotine for vaping is banned in Australia unless you have a prescription from a doctor.

“The evidence says that the aerosol produced by e-cigarettes contain many ingredients including solvents and flavouring agents,” says Cancer Council Australia tobacco issues committee chair Libby Jardine.

“They have also been found to contain ingredients such as heavy metals and particulate matter that can damage the lungs, increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and even cause cancer.”


The long-term safety of vaping is unknown

While e-cigarettes not containing nicotine are legal in Australia, they are not regulated as a therapeutic good, which means an official assessment into their quality and safety is not known.

Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council says there is insufficient evidence to support claims that e-cigarettes are safe, and further research is required to enable the long-term safety, quality and efficacy of e-cigarettes to be assessed.

“With vaping only being widespread in some countries for 10 years, it is far too early to know the full risks of e-cigarettes,” University of Sydney emeritus professor of public health Simon Chapman says.

“The average daily vaper inhales a cocktail of vapourised nicotine, propylene glycol and chemical flavouring agents deep into their lungs 200 times a day or 73,000 times a year.

“We have no idea what the long-term consequences of this are.”

Can vaping help quit smoking?

According to a recent New Zealand study, combining nicotine patches with vaping could be an effective way to quit smoking.

But in Australia, the Cancer Council says the evidence for e-cigarettes as cessation aids to help quit smoking is inconclusive and no vaping product has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Association as a quit smoking tool.

Written by Tania Gomez