What are electronic cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) are battery powered devices which heat liquid (also called e-liquid) into an aerosol which is inhaled into a person’s lungs[1]. The aerosol is often called ‘vapour’.

E-cigarettes are also called electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), alternative nicotine delivery systems (ANDS), or e-cigs.

Unlike tobacco cigarettes, where the smoke from burning tobacco is inhaled, the e-cigarette user inhales an aerosol which may contain nicotine, propylene glycol and other chemicals into their lungs[1]. Inhaling the aerosol is usually called ‘vaping’.

When e-cigarette is being used, the user inhales and exhales the vapour which may give the appearance of smoke.

E-liquids are often flavoured, with over 7,000 flavours available such as tobacco, confectionery, fruit and chocolate[2]. They may or may not contain nicotine and may or may not be labelled as containing nicotine[3].

E-cigarettes may be shaped and coloured to make them look like cigarettes or other tobacco products like cigars, cigarillos, pipes, hookahs or shishas. E-cigarettes are also sometimes made to look like everyday items such as pens or USB memory sticks[3].

E-cigarettes can either be disposable or re-useable. Most devices include a battery, an airflow sensor (to activate the power from the battery), an aerosol generator (to turn the e-liquid into an aerosol) and e-liquid.

Are e-cigarettes legal in NSW?

On 25 June 2015, the NSW Parliament passed the Public Health (Tobacco) Amendment (E-cigarettes) Act 2015 to amend the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2008. The Act was assented on 30 June 2015. The changes to the Act define e-cigarettes and e-cigarette accessories to be separate from tobacco products. The Act makes many of the provisions that apply to tobacco products also apply to e-cigarette and e-cigarette accessories.

The changes commenced in two stages.

From 1 September 2015 it is an offence:

  • to sell e-cigarettes and e-cigarette accessories to minors under the age of 18
  • for adults to buy e-cigarettes and e-cigarette accessories on behalf of minors
  • to operate or use a vending machine that dispenses e-cigarettes and/or e-cigarette accessories on behalf of a minor.

NSW Police have the power to seize an e-cigarette that is in the possession of a person under the age of 18.

From 1 December 2015:

  • it is an offence to use e-cigarettes in cars with children under the age of 16 present
  • new provisions apply to the display and advertising of e-cigarettes and accessories.

The sale of e-cigarettes and e-cigarette accessories to a minor is subject to the same maximum penalty as the sale of a tobacco product to a minor:

  • a penalty of $11,000 for an individual or $55,000 for a corporation; and
  • for repeat offenders, a penalty of $55,000 for an individual and $110,000 for a corporation.

For more information about these new laws, read the following fact sheets:

It is important to note that the sale of liquid nicotine, including in liquids used in e-cigarettes, is illegal under NSW Poisons legislation (Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Regulation 2008 NSW) without approval from the NSW Ministry of Health unless the product is listed or registered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.

If you see an e-cigarette or e-liquid that is labelled as containing nicotine, you can report this to NSW Health by email ecigs@doh.health.nsw.gov.au.

To find out more about the law and e-cigarettes, read  Are electronic cigarettes legal in NSW? It includes information about NSW tobacco legislation, NSW poisons legislation and national therapeutics legislation.

Are e-cigarettes and liquids safe?

To find out more about whether e-cigarettes and their liquids are safe, read  Are electronic cigarettes and liquids safe?

Can e-cigarettes help me to quit smoking?

To find out more about whether e-cigarettes can help you to quit smoking, read  Can electronic cigarettes help me to quit smoking?​​​​

The NSW Government encourages all smokers to quit smoking. You can get help from the Quitline 13 7848; a free telephone based counselling service, the iCanQuit website and your General Practitioner or pharmacist.

Public health warning

Some e-cigarettes and e-liquids which are labelled as containing no nicotine have been found upon analysis in Australia to actually contain significant quantities of nicotine. Scientific testing undertaken by the NSW Ministry of Health showed that many of the liquids used in e-cigarettes contained high levels of nicotine that, if swallowed are potentially lethal. A public health warning was released in October 2013 to raise consumer awareness of the potential risks of these products. 


  1. World Health Organization, Electronic nicotine delivery systems: Report by WHO. 2014.
  2. Zhu, S.-H., et al., Four hundred and sixty brands of e-cigarettes and counting: implications for product regulation. Tob Control, 2014. 23 Suppl 3: p. 3-9.
  3. Brown, C.J. and J.M. Cheng, Electronic cigarettes: product characterisation and design considerations. Tob Control, 2014. 23 Suppl 2: p. 4-10.
Page Updated: Friday 21 October 2016