Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are devices that produce a vapour which is breathed in. The process, also known as vaping, is similar to smoking, except you don’t have to burn the tobacco.
E-cigarettes are often promoted as a healthier option, but this may not be the case. Many e-cigarettes still contain nicotine as well as other potentially harmful chemicals such as ammonia that are breathed into your lungs and very quickly absorbed into your body. Smokers inhale so much and so frequently that we just don’t know what the impacts of these chemicals will be. However, we do know e-cigarettes containing nicotine are addictive, just like tobacco.
Smoking e-cigarettes is not recommended as a means to quit tobacco smoking. If you are trying to quit smoking, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is a better choice. NRT is designed to gradually release nicotine into your body to help relieve symptoms you may get when you are trying to quit. However, NRT avoids the surge of nicotine that enhances addiction. It’s that surge of nicotine from a cigarette or an e-cigarette that provides the reward and keeps you addicted. NRT avoids this, while buffering withdrawal symptoms.
Quitting smoking can improve your quality of life by having a positive impact on your physical health. What’s more, research shows that, after the nicotine withdrawal has been overcome, there are substantial long-lasting improvements to your mental health with reduced levels of anxiety and depression. Swapping to e-cigarettes won’t give you the same result.
If you would like help to quit, or you would like to refer someone to get help, call the Quitline on 13 7848, or talk to a health professional.
Watch this short video in which Dr Lyndon Bauer, a GP on the Central Coast and the Health Promotion Service’s research and evaluation officer, answers the burning questions around e-cigarettes and vaping – including the risks associated with COVID-19 – and debunks some myths along the way.
E-cigarettes – the top 5 issues
1. Availability and take-up is increasing
The rate of e-cigarette use in Australia is growing. In 2019, more than one in 10 Australians aged 14 or over reported having used an e-cigarette, an increase of more than a quarter since 2016, and 2.5 times the rate in 2013. The highest usage is amongst young adults aged 18–24, where more than a quarter had used an e-cigarette, an increase of more than a third since 2016.
2. They are a gateway to smoking tobacco and other drugs
Studies around the world (such as these from the USA, Canada and Germany) have found high school students who have never smoked, but start using e-cigarettes, are much more likely to end up smoking tobacco.
3. No one can be sure they’re safe
E-cigarettes have the potential to be addictive, which means people are at risk of exposure to large amounts of nicotine and other potentially harmful chemicals. Some of these chemicals are not in tobacco smoke, so it is unknown what long-term health consequences they will have. However, evidence is growing, and some studies have linked them to issues such as blood pressure, heart rate and arterial stiffness. Both the Australian Government and World Health Organization have recently issued warnings on the health implications of inhaling harmful toxics in e-cigarettes.
4. They don’t help people quit
When e-cigarettes were first available, it was thought they could be used to help smokers cut down and eventually quit smoking tobacco. Since then, more evidence has come to light. E-cigarettes aren’t any more effective at helping people quit. Worse, they often result in smokers using both e-cigarettes and tobacco.
5. They are not regulated in many countries
Even though restrictions on tobacco advertising and product placement have been in place for many years, e-cigarettes are not as tightly governed… yet. Like tobacco companies before them, e-cigarettes have snuck their way into Hollywood movies because it’s a tried and tested way of getting people to smoke.
NSW Health has been careful in regulating the use of e-cigarettes. Click here to read more about the regulations in place.
On World No Tobacco Day 2021, we launched our Say No to Vaping campaign to help raise awareness of the health risks young people are exposing themselves to by using e-cigarettes. You can read more about the campaign and download resources including posters, social media tiles and animations from our Say No to Vaping campaign webpage.