There are some key differences between the US and Australian markets when it comes to vaping.
Health officials in the US have confirmed what they say is the first 'vaping-related' death. In every case so far, however, the culprit has been THC (cannabis) oil purchased on the black market -- not legally-purchased vaping liquid. The problem appears to be the contaminants used in the preparation of the illicit product.
In the US, where vape company Juul is synonymous with high profile social media influencers, over 1.3 million high school students admit to using e-cigarettes on the regular.
Here in Australia, studies have shown that 13 per cent of 12 - 17 year olds have already experimented with vapes.
Not much is known about the specific effects of vaping but there’s one thing that most experts agree on - it has the very real potential for harm.
“You inhale a solution which is based on propylene glycol and glycerine and that is put into a chamber and super heated to between 400 to 600 degrees,” says Dr Matthew Peters, Professor of respiratory medicine at Macquarie university.
“In addition to that base, a number of chemicals can be added - nicotine, flavourings - all sorts of stuff are added to make it more attractive.”
While studies into potential long-term effects from prolonged vaping are still in the initial phases, Dr Peters says that coughing, more severe asthma attacks and inflammation are just some of the short-term effects.
So, vaping is not healthy, per se, but studies have shown that tobacco smokers with emphysema and asthma improve after switching to vaping. Lung function also improves and respiratory infections are less frequent.
“There’s a real problem with basic consumer safety.”
“There’s just not a lot of information about the device, the charger and the liquids,” says Quit Director Dr Sarah White.
“You can’t buy a bike helmet that doesn't meet the Australian safety standards,” Dr White told The Feed.
"But I can buy an e-cigarette, heat it to the point where it the point where it volatilises liquid and suck it deep into my lungs for hours with no consumer safety standards."
Despite Australia’s extremely strict tobacco laws, Dr White says that vapes and e-cigarettes are hidden in a legislative blind spot.
“Originally, people in tobacco control said ‘Well, it’s not tobacco, so it’s kind of not our thing to comment on we just don’t want people addicted to nicotine,” she says.
“Our poisons legislation covers the nicotine liquid but there was nothing covering the devices and the liquids that 'don’t' contain nicotine so it’s kind of fallen into a regulatory gap.
"There’s no one else really keeping an eye on this. This stuff could be made in people’s bath tubs in backyards."
The Australian vaping market is not totally unregulated. In Australia, it’s illegal to sell nicotine in liquid form but many people are purchasing Juul’s and similar products online from overseas sellers.
Moreover, in January 2019, the Medical Journal of Australia tested 10 different brands of vape juice that claimed to be nicotine-free. The resulting study revealed that six out of 10 of the brands contained detectable levels of nicotine.
Flavours might help smokers quit, but do they encourage non-smokers to vape?
While flavoured vaping liquid may make vaping more enticing for cigarette smokers to make the switch, Dr White believes vape manufacturers are vying for a dangerously young market with some of their whimsically flavoured liquids.
“Tell me which old smoker bloke really wants to vape blueberries and pancakes. They’re taking this straight out of the big tobacco playbook.
"Personally, I have no doubt whatsoever that these companies are appealing to teenagers."