What is vaping?

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Vaping laws are changing in Australia.  From the 1st of October 2021 consumers will require a prescription to purchase nicotine vaping products in Australia or import them from overseas. 

So, what is vaping? Why should we be cautious of it? And what impact can it have on our oral health? 

‘Vaping’ is the act of inhaling the fine aerosol created by an electronic cigarette or ‘e-cigarette’ into the lungs.  E-cigarettes are battery operated devices often shaped like a cigarette, cigar, pen or other everyday household object.  They heat up liquid solutions or ‘vape juice’ which contain nicotine and other chemicals.  E-cigarettes can be brightly coloured with the liquid solutions sometimes including flavourings like chocolate, bubble-gum or fruity flavours to increase their appeal.  

Although e-cigarettes have been around for about a decade, smaller, slicker and more attractive designs have contributed to the rise of vaping amongst young people.  ALL e-cigarettes are illegal for people under the age of 18 years.  Concerningly, this hasn’t deterred young people from vaping, with many teenagers succumbing to peer pressure around this addictive and risky activity.  Research is indicating that young people who wouldn’t try ‘real’ cigarettes may be attracted to vaping as a ‘safer’ option.  There is growing evidence to suggest young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke conventional tobacco cigarettes later in life.  The availability of e-cigarettes online and at a far cheaper cost than conventional tobacco cigarettes further increase their appeal.  There’s a real risk that e-cigarettes could normalise smoking or act as a gateway to conventional tobacco cigarettes for a whole new generation. 

The manufacture, contents and labelling of e-cigarettes, nicotine liquid solutions and nicotine-free liquid solutions is largely unregulated, with no quality or safety standards in place.  Most liquid solutions that are labelled nicotine free and available for sale in Australia do, in fact contain nicotine.   

What are you potentially inhaling if you ‘Vape?’  

Despite the fact that e-cigarettes do not produce the tar created by use of conventional tobacco cigarettes (which is one of the causes of lung cancer) the use of e-cigarettes can still increase the risk of general health conditions such as lung disease, heart disease and cancer.  There is not yet enough research to know exactly all the effects e-cigarettes may have on our health.  Liquid solutions contain unspecified amounts of nicotine and other hazardous substances with the aerosol created through heating these liquid solutions producing even more toxic chemicals. 

These substances may be present in the liquid solution that is vaped: 

  • Formaldehyde – documented as being a cancer-causing substance or carcinogen. It is a colourless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical that is used as a preservative.  
  • Acetaldehyde – a volatile liquid obtained by oxidizing ethanol. Acetaldehyde is a powerful poison, considerably more toxic than alcohol, and can damage almost any part of the body. 
  • Acrolein – a herbicide used to kill weeds and also documented as a carcinogen. It is a colourless liquid with a piercing, pungent The vapor may cause eye, nasal, and respiratory tract irritations and irreversible lung damage.  
  • Benzene– a volatile organic compound found in car exhausts that is also documented as a carcinogen.  Long term exposure can cause harm to bone marrow, reducing red blood cell numbers and leading to anaemia or cancer of blood forming organs such as leukaemia. 
  • Diacetyl– a chemical compound used in popcorn flavourings for its buttery taste. It can cause ‘Popcorn Lung’ (bronchiolitis obliterans) if inhaled in large concentrations. 
  • Propylene glycol– a clear odourless solvent used in antifreeze, as a food additive or to produce a smoke or fog effects.  When heated it can form propylene oxide which is also a documented carcinogen. 
  • Diethylene glycol– a clear, slightly sweet tasting liquid found in antifreeze.  It is linked to lung disease. 
  • Lead, tin, nickel – and other heavy metals.  Heavy metal exposure may result in damage to liver, lungs, brain, kidneys and other organs.
  • Cadmium- a toxic metal that increases the risk of breathing problems, lung disease, emphysema, cancer, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.  It is also found in conventional tobacco cigarettes. 
  • Ultra-small particles – inhaled deep into the lungs when vaping these ultra-small particles increase the risk of developing cancer.
  • Nicotine – is a poisonous and highly addictive chemical that comes from the tobacco plant. It was previously used widely as a natural insecticide to kill pests.
  • Some liquid solutions may contain:

Vaping liquids can harm children.  Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known.  It is a dangerous poison and can cause serious injury or death.  It can be absorbed through the skin with accidental swallowing of liquid nicotine solutions being potentially fatal for small children.  Liquid nicotine solutions are particularly dangerous for small children and pets, who may be attracted by bright packaging and the use of confectionary and fruit flavourings.  The median lethal dose of liquid nicotine is estimated to be 6.5-13mg/Kg; hence, an accidental ingestion of around one tablespoon of liquid nicotine solution is sufficient to induce irreversible damage or death in a child.  If you think a child or someone may have been poisoned by a liquid nicotine solution, don’t wait for symptoms to occur. If the person has collapsed or is not breathing, call Triple Zero (000) and ask for an ambulance. Once the ambulance is on its way, call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 for first aid advice. Don’t try to make the person vomit unless Poisons Information Centre or a doctor recommend it.  Experts have also expressed serious concerns over nicotine exposure and brain development in the young. 

Smoking e-cigarettes can increase your risk of developing gum disease, delay healing in the mouth and increase dryness which can lead to an increased risk of both tooth decay and gum disease and cause bad breath.  Temporary loss of taste may also occur, a condition known as vape tongue.  Mouth (or oral) cancer, is cancer of the mouth that may occur on the tongue, roof or floor of the mouth, lips, tonsils or throat.  Smoking is one of the main risk factors for oral cancer.  The long-term effects of vaping are not fully known, but evidence suggests that vaping may also increase the risk of developing oral cancer through exposure to the hazardous chemicals present in liquid solutions or created when these liquid solutions are heated. 

E -cigarettes are sometimes marketed as a way to quit smoking.  There is not enough evidence to support them as an effective smoking cessation (stopping) aid in either the short or long term or to indicate that they are as effective as other smoking cessation methods like nicotine replacement therapy (patches, gum or inhalators).  They are therefore not approved as an aid to quit smoking in Australia and are not listed under the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.   

Are you concerned that someone you know is vaping? 

If you or someone you know is vaping and needs help, you can contact Quitline on 13 78 48 or visit the Quit HQ website https://quithq.initiatives.qld.gov.au/quit-support/quitline/get-help-from-quitline 

If you need more information on vaping products, what’s in them, the laws and the health effects, you can find more information here: 

Electronic cigarettes 


E-cigarettes – State and Territory laws 

What’s really in vape juice? 

TGA – Nicotine vaping products 

Teen vaping 

Smoking, vaping and your oral health