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A warning to consumers about the serious health risks relating to e-cigarette liquid

15 January 2019

The TGA is alerting consumers to the potential risks of purchasing electronic cigarette liquid. This advice stems from a study which found undisclosed and potentially harmful ingredients in electronic cigarette liquid being sold in Australia, including nicotine and traces of other chemicals, in liquid that claimed to be 'nicotine-free'.

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery systems or e-cigs, are devices that turn liquid into mist for inhalation. This is generally done to simulate the act of cigarette smoking.

The study published online by the Medical Journal of Australia on 14 January 2019 details how researchers purchased 10 'nicotine-free' electronic cigarette liquids (a variety of brands and flavours) online and over-the-counter from Australian suppliers. Testing of these products found 60 per cent actually contained nicotine. It is illegal to sell liquids for use in electronic cigarettes which contain nicotine.

Nicotine is classified as a Schedule 7 Dangerous Poison under the Poisons Standard (with specific exemptions such as for certain nicotine replacement therapies and tobacco when prepared and packed for smoking). In all states and territories, the retail sale of nicotine is an offence unless a permit has been issued by the relevant state or territory authority.

All electronic cigarette liquids tested in the study also contained traces of 2-chlorophenol, which is a common breakdown product of some insecticides, herbicides and disinfectants, and is known to irritate human airways and skin. Another substance detected was 2‐amino‐octanoic acid, which is found in blood, urine, and faeces of mammals and may indicate the contamination of the product during manufacture.

The TGA is reminding consumers that, while these products are sometimes promoted as an option to help people quit smoking, the evidence for electronic cigarettes in smoking cessation is mixed. There are also concerns from Europe and the USA that significant use of nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes by adolescents can lead to longer-term cigarette smoking. At this time, no electronic cigarettes have been approved in Australia as a therapeutic good for smoking cessation. Since the TGA does not regulate these products, their quality and safety is not known.

The TGA has previously published information for consumers about electronic cigarettes, including information about regulatory issues and potential legal and health risks which remains current and applicable. The TGA is also advising consumers to exercise extreme caution when buying medicines online.

Additional information about electronic cigarettes is available on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) website.

Consumers are encouraged to discuss quitting smoking with their health professional, or by calling Quitline on 13 78 48.