Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are battery operated devices that heat a liquid (called ‘e-liquid’) to produce a vapour that users inhale.  Although their composition varies, e-liquids typically contain a range of chemicals, which may include nicotine.

E-cigarettes are a topic of contention, with stakeholders holding a range of views about their safety and whether they can minimise harm to smokers or help them to quit smoking altogether. International evidence is emerging of a possible link between the use of e-cigarettes and lung disease1. Concerns have also been raised about the potential for e-cigarettes to undermine existing tobacco-control measures, by renormalising smoking, or providing young people with an alternative entryway into nicotine addiction and tobacco cigarette smoking2.

Australian Government Department of Health. Statement from the Chief Medical Officer and State and Territory Chief Health Officers about e-cigarettes and an emerging link between their use and lung disease. [Internet.] Canberra: Department of Health; Media release 13 December 2019 [cited 2020 July 22]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/news/e-cigarettes-linked-to-severe-lung-illness

2 National Health and Medical Research Council. CEO Statement: Electronic Cigarettes. [Internet]. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council; April 2017 [cited 2020 July 22]. Available from: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/resources/ceo-statement-electronic-cigarettes 

Safety and Efficacy: CEO Statement on e-cigarettes

On 3 April 2017, the NHMRC CEO issued a statement on e-cigarettes to help consumers and policy-makers understand the current evidence for their safety and efficacy.

It concluded that there is currently insufficient evidence to support claims that e-cigarettes are safe, and further research is needed to enable the long-term safety, quality and efficacy of e-cigarettes to be assessed.

In June 2020, NHMRC established the Electronic Cigarettes Working Committee to oversee the update of the 2017 CEO Statement. It is expected that the updated CEO Statement, which will review new evidence on the topic, will be released mid-2022.

In the interim, the 2017 CEO Statement remains current.

NHMRC funded research

Since 2011, NHMRC has funded 14 grants, committing over $12.6 million for research into e-cigarettes to investigate the: 

  • efficacy of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation, including amongst disadvantaged and vulnerable populations
  • health effects of e-cigarettes
  • uptake of e-cigarettes in children and adolescents 
  • potential impact of e-cigarettes on smoking uptake, and
  • effect of new media platforms on e-cigarette promotion and consumer behaviour.