E-cigarettes; what you need to know

E-cigarettes are hard to miss these days. Targeted to people trying to give up smoking the e-cigarette is becoming increasingly popular, a handy fix to get over the cravings and reach the goal of a nicotine-free life. Although a relatively new addition to the ‘quitting’ market they are now visible practically everywhere, from bars and hotels to the beach and even trains!

But what do we actually know about e-cigarettes and, as parents, are we informed enough to have conversations with our children about them and potential risks. We have put together a list of questions for parents and kids that we have been asking in Life Education and some of our findings.

What is nicotine?
Nicotine is a toxic, colourless, oily liquid which is the chief component of tobacco. When inhaled as smoke the nicotine is absorbed through small air sacs in the lungs. It is highly addictive and can cause increased blood pressure and heart and lung problems.

What are e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes are battery powered devices that mimic the process of smoking by heating a nicotine liquid into a vapour as the user inhales.

How are they used?
Simulating a cigarette, a user inhales the vapour through a replaceable cartridge. Within the cartridge is a mixture of nicotine as well as artificial flavourings such as menthol and the chemical Propylene Glycol (PG). As this liquid is inhaled and exhaled as an odourless vapour, using an e-cigarette is often called ‘vaping’.

What is Propylene Glycol?
Propylene Glycol or PG is the main chemical found in e-cigarettes; it is a form of mineral oil and alcohol. PG comes in lots of different forms, and is found in everything from antifreeze to snack foods. At its highest concentration or industry grade it is used in paints, enamels and engine coolants, however when levels are far less concentrated it is used at a pharmaceutical grade and can be found in ointments, topical drug products and sometimes food products.

Why are people using e-cigarettes?
For many people trying to give up smoking it is the process of breaking the habit that is the hardest and as e-cigarettes replicate the process of smoking it addresses the physiological and behavioural aspects of smoking addiction. E-cigarettes also do not contain tobacco and the associated chemicals found within cigarettes including tar. As the user breathes vapour there is also a reduced risk of second hand smoking. In fact, recent studies have suggested that 80-84% of e-cigarette users thought they were less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

Do they work?
There is no evidence at the moment that proves the effectiveness of e-cigarettes in helping users quit. Research carried out in the UK , USA , Canada and Australia of 6000 current and former smokers found that e-cigarette users were far more likely to reduce their cigarette intake but no more likely to give up smoking. Similarly Dr Tarun Weeramanthri , Executive Director of Public Health at the Western Australia Department of Health, told ABC Radio that ‘when we look at the evidence, many more people keep smoking both normal cigarettes and e-cigarettes’.

Are they safe?
Nicotine in any form is highly addictive and as the vapour inhaled in an e-cigarette is not only water, the user still inhales a large number of toxins. As e-cigarettes are still relatively new to the market no long term studies have been carried out and therefore we do not know the long term risks of inhaling Propylene Glycol on a regular basis. In terms of e-cigarettes appealing to our children; e-cigarettes are marketed in such a manner that may attract young people, glamourous, cool, sleek as well as flavoured vapours, vanilla, banana split, and cola to mention three.

Why are they in the news?
In Australia the nicotine e-liquid and cartridges are yet to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and selling and importing without a correct license is illegal. However whilst they have yet to be approved in Australia there are a number of people using them. Tobacco companies are also investing in e-cigarettes as a product line and looking to market them, often in glamourous, appealing ways. Also around the world regulators are in decision making mode and the ones they make will shape the future of e-cigarette production and marketing – all eyes are on them.

What now?
Even though the smoking rates in Australia are decreasing, and children are generally aware of the health risks associated with smoking, some will still be confronted with decisions about smoking or reducing harm from second hand smoking. Where do we stand? At Life Education we believe it is important to give our kids as much information as possible when it comes to smoking to empower them to make healthier and safer choices in the future and this forms a key message in our programs in schools. With regards to the e-cigarette, we hope that they will receive the same restrictions as tobacco products in order to reduce the risk of e-cigarettes appealing to children and young people.

What can I do?
Here are some other ideas you can do at home to discuss smoking with your family:

  • Go to and download our ‘The Smoky Case’ app where you and your kids can explore the facts around smoking through the eyes of time travelling detective Mac McHardy and his sidekick ‘Conan’ to solve the case of why smoking is unhealthy
  • Conversation starters you could try when using/after using the app
    • Reminding them that most people and most young people don’t smoke
    • Why would they choose not to smoke?
    • What advice would you give your friends about smoking?
  • Use incidental moments when children see cigarettes in use when you are out and about or on the television/movies to create a conversation about smoking e.g.
    • Did you know that most teenagers don’t smoke?
    • What advice would you give your friends about smoking?
  • Share your thoughts as a family around smoking

Share you stories with us? Have you had to talk to your children about smoking? How did you do it?

E-cigarettes: Understanding the Potential Risks and Benefits, Non-Smokers’ Rights Association/Smoking and Health Action Foundation, Ocotber 2013
Propylene Glycol: The Good, the Bad and the Alternatives, NaturalNews.com
E-Cigarette Fact Sheet, quitsa.org.au
Fact Check: Too soon to know if e-cigarettes help people quit smoking, ABC News, 4/8/14

If you are still looking to quit or want more information about the risks of smoking visit Quit Now.