E-Cigarettes: Everything You Need To Know

19/12/2015 11:29 AM AEDT | Updated December 19, 2015 13:35
VICTOR DE SCHWANBERG via Getty Images
Person smoking e cigarette.

Electronic cigarettes. They've been heralded as both a life saving marvel and the biggest threat to public health we've ever seen. Some say they're a great way to ditch the death-sticks, others worry they're re-normalising smoking and getting young people hooked with sexy advertising, cool gadgets and tasty flavours.

So how to you separate the fact from fiction?

In Australia, each state has different rules around the sale, possession and marketing of e-cigs. The Australian Medical Association this week released a new stance on tobacco products to incorporate its position on e-cigarettes. They have called for the Federal Government to work with states and territories to introduce nationally consistent controls.

AMA President, Professor Brian Owler, said the AMA is concerned about conflicting messages from different states.

“A nationally consistent approach is needed to stamp out any products or marketing that make smoking in any form appear attractive," he said.

But at the moment, things are a little more confusing.

Let's break this down.

What are electronic cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes, otherwise known as e-cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) or e-cigs, are fancy electronic devices which produce a mist which is inhaled. They first came onto the market in 2006, and now they're often used as an alternative to cigarette smoking. However, unlike Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) products like patches or gum, they're not approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Basically, they haven't yet been properly tested for safety.

How do they work?

The small, battery powered e-cigarette heats up a flavoured liquid (usually a combination of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin) -- potentially but not always containing nicotine -- which is then inhaled. You can get various levels of nicotine in the so-called 'vape-juice', so you can cut down or ramp up when you do choose.

Will they still kill you?

Unfortunately, there's no conclusive evidence around the safety of e-cigarettes. As they've been on the market for less than ten years, there's not that much research -- and most of the studies that have been done are funded by corporate interests. However, the nub and gist is essentially this: If you're already a smoker, they're likely a better alternative. If you're a non-smoker, they're certainly not a guilt free way to take it up.

Are they legal?

Here's where things get tricky.

In Australia, nicotine is classified by law as a dangerous poison. States are responsible for regulating poisons, and many Australian states do not allow the sale or use of nicotine, even if it is purchased online from overseas suppliers.

As a general rule of thumb, you can't sell or buy nicotine in Australia in its liquid form, so if you want it, you have to order it from overseas. However, you can purchase a nicotine-free inhaling device in Australia, and, in most states it's legal to use nicotine products you've purchased from overseas.

Got it?

For other things, like marketing, selling to under eighteens and smoking in public places, the lines are a little more blurry.

Here's a state-by-state breakdown.

Australian Capital Territory

  • It is legal to sell and buy e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine nor claim to be for therapeutic (helping to quit smoking) purposes
  • It is legal to sell e-cigarettes containing nicotine if licensed under the medicines, poisons and therapeutic goods act
  • It is illegal to sell e-cigarettes claiming to have therapeutic benefits
  • Only products registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) are can carry a therapeutic claim. No e-cigarettes, with or without nicotine, are currently registered with the TGA.
  • From 2016, measures will be put in place to prevent sale to under 18's, in vending machines, and on the marketing of e-cigarettes.

New South Wales

  • It is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to under eighteens
  • It is illegal to buy e-cigarettes for under eighteens
  • It is illegal to have e-cigarettes in vending machines
  • It is illegal to use e-cigarettes in cars with under sixteens
  • It is illegal to sell e-cigarettes containing nicotine without a licence
  • It is illegal to claim e-cigarettes have therapeutic benefits without approval from the TGA

Queensland

  • It is illegal to use e-cigarettes in existing non-smoking indoor and outdoor places
  • It is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to under eighteens
  • It is illegal to buy e-cigarettes for under eighteens
  • It is illegal to advertise, promote or display e-cigarettes at retail outlets
  • It is illegal to sell nicotine without approval from the Health (Drugs and Poisons) Regulation

Western Australia

  • It is illegal to sell liquid nicotine without a licence
  • It is illegal to purchase liquid nicotine without a permit
  • It is illegal to claim e-cigarettes have therapeutic benefits without approval from the TGA
  • It is illegal to use e-cigarettes in any area where smoking is restricted

South Australia

  • It is illegal to sell or promote e-cigarettes with nicotine as having therapeutic benefits
  • It is illegal to sell an e-cigarette (or any delivery device) that resembles a tobacco product
  • It is legal to use or possess e-cigarettes, containing nicotine or otherwise

Tasmamia

  • It is illegal to sell liquid nicotine without a licence
  • It is legal to sell e-cigarettes (without nicotine) even without a licence
  • It is illegal to sell or promote e-cigarettes with nicotine as having therapeutic benefits without a licence

Northern Territory

  • It is illegal to sell liquid nicotine without a licence
  • It is legal to sell e-cigarettes without nicotine
  • It is illegal to sell or promote e-cigarettes with nicotine as having therapeutic benefits without a licence

Victoria

  • It is illegal to sell liquid nicotine without a licence
  • It is legal to sell e-cigarettes without nicotine
  • It is illegal to sell or promote e-cigarettes with nicotine as having therapeutic benefits without a licence

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