How addictive is vaping?
(512 min read)

Helen McLucas

Helen McLucas

Highly addictive! And it's becoming more addictive according to recent research from the University of Wollongong. 'Vaping companies have tripled the amount of nicotine in their products and are using other dirty tricks to get teens addicted to the equivalent of a two pack-a-day habit in record time'.1

Vaping statistics

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has described the vaping industry, which has close links to the tobacco industry, as 'predatory'.2

Between 2015 and 2019, e-cigarette use by young people increased by 72 percent in the US, 150 percent in Canada and 96 percent in Australia.3

The sale of nicotine vapes, except by prescription as a smoking cessation device, is illegal in Australia. The Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) has not approved any vapes for sale in Australia. 'Vapers can face fines of up to $45,000 or up to 2 years in prison for possessing an illegal vape. So far, no vapers have been convicted'.4 Selling vapes, which are readily available online via an Uber Eats model, at convenience and tobacco stores as well as petrol stations, faces higher penalties.

Labelling of vapes

As vapes are not TGA approved, they do not need to comply with Australian standards for labelling.

In September 2023, the team from the University of Wollongong's School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences published the results of testing 750 vapes: 'In a 12-month Australian-first research project, done on behalf of NSW Health... it came as little surprise to researchers that 97.5 percent of the (vape) devices analysed contained nicotine despite most not having it listed as an active ingredient, with an average concentration of 40 milligrams per mil. This included e-cigarettes (vapes) labelled as "nicotine-free", skirting legislation that requires a prescription for vapes containing nicotine'.5

Anatomy of an E-cig

What else is in a vape?

On 16 November 2023, the ABC6 reported a 14-year-old had been admitted to a South Australian hospital seriously ill after inhaling a drug-laced vape. The vape was laced with THC (marijuana) and a hallucinogen DMT. It is unclear whether the teenager knew about the drugs in their vape. Other reports have found vape users have unknowingly been affected by drug-laced vapes.

Teens have been able to easily buy vapes with THC for several years. The addition of DMT is a recent development. It is highly unlikely that THC and DMT will be listed on the vape's label and the concentration of the drugs will not be disclosed.

In October 2023, it was reported that Wellness vapes or, Nutritional Supplement Diffusers, are now trending7. Apart from ingredient claims of 'vitamins, caffeine and melatonin, vapes marketed with "wellness" claims can also contain innocent-sounding ingredients like green tea extract, milk thistle, and essential oils... if you hope to benefit from wellness vape the ingredient must survive the vape heating process to several hundred degrees first', and that is unlikely. Just more marketing hype to encourage vaping. There is also no indication if there is nicotine in these wellness vapes!

The NSW Government8 lists other ingredients that may be in a vape:

  • Vape aerosol looks like water and contains nicotine and a range of chemicals. Most vapers believe vape aerosol is water and, therefore, safe.
  • The main ingredient in vapes is propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine or glycerol.
  • There are a range of chemicals such as acetone found in nail polish remover, acrolein found in weed killer and 2-cholorophenol found in cleaning products and bug spray.
  • Vapes contain flavouring such as blueberry or bubble gum that make them appealing to teens.

There is also a metal coil for ignition, a lithium-ion battery and packaging. Research has found up to 200 ingredients, and most are unidentifiable. Once the vape ingredients are heated, chemical reactions create additional chemicals adding to the list of unknown ingredients in a vape. The metal coil can breakdown after repeated use which leads to vapers inhaling metal fragments.

Does vaping lead to cigarette smoking?

In June 2023, research prepared for the Australian Health Department by Cancer Victoria reported that there had been a strong rise in vapers under the age of 25 and smoking rates had drastically increased for teenagers since 2020.

This is the first time we've seen an increase in teen smoking since the early-to-mid-1990s.9

Vaping is affordable

Vaping is affordable

Snus, the next tobacco-based product

In October 2023, it was reported10 that 'Snus, a new type of flavoured nicotine pouch, is available online in Australia. The tea bag-like sachets are placed between the upper lip and gum. Taking their cue from popular vaping products, which have been criticised for appealing to children and teenagers, the dissolvable products come in brightly coloured packaging and sweet flavours'.

Unlike traditional nicotine—a chemical derived from the tobacco plant—synthetic nicotine is made in a lab. It has existed for more than a century but has recently gained popularity in flavoured vaping products due to its tastelessness.

We do see similar techniques marketing these products (Snus), with the colours and the flavours.11

The tobacco and vaping industry are relentless in finding new ways to market their products and addict a new generation to nicotine boosting their profits at the health cost of a new generation of nicotine addicts.

Governments currently do not have legislation in place to deal with synthetic nicotine products as they are so new.

Although there is virtually no difference between synthetic and natural nicotine products, they may fall under different (government) regulations.12

Teen physical and mental health

The long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are not yet fully understood, but studies have shown that they can have negative impacts on lung function and can lead to respiratory issues. Additionally, nicotine, which is present in most e-cigarettes, is highly addictive and can harm brain development in teenagers, potentially leading to long-term cognitive deficits.

Research13 shows several connections between nicotine and mental health:

  • Nicotine can worsen anxiety symptoms and amplify feelings of depression.
  • Current e-cigarette users have double the odds of having a diagnosis of depression compared to those who have never vaped, according to a 2019 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) of nearly 30,000 current e-cigarette users. Frequent vaping is tied to even higher odds (2.4x) of having a diagnosis of depression compared to never users.
  • Using e-cigarettes can worsen symptoms of depression, based on the results of a study of nearly 2,500 ninth graders who had never previously used e-cigarettes or combustible tobacco.
  • Using e-cigarettes at a higher frequency was associated with higher depressive symptoms—including feeling sad or having crying spells—a year later.
  • Trace metals found in vape liquid may play a role in the potential link between vaping and depression.
  • Vaping is significantly associated with higher levels of ADHD symptoms, based on a 2019 study of college students. Using e-cigarettes as an adult also had nearly twice the odds of association with cognitive complaints—having serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions—compared to those who had never used e-cigarettes.

Despite these risks, teen vaping continues to be a significant problem, with rates of e-cigarette use among high school students increasing dramatically in recent years. Efforts to combat teen vaping include regulation of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices, education campaigns aimed at discouraging use, and enforcement of laws prohibiting sales to minors. However, more needs to be done to address this issue and protect young people from the potential harms of vaping.

The good news

In November 202314, the Australian Health Minister, Mark Butler, announced that from January 2024 Australia will ban the manufacture, advertising, supply and importing of disposable, single use vapes to help cut addiction in children. Nicotine vapes, as a smoking cessation device will still be available via prescription.

What now?

Creating awareness of vaping is critical. Parents find it difficult to tell if the child is vaping because it is basically odourless. We need to educate ourselves, talk to our children, other parents, and our community about the harm and damage of vaping.


Helen McLucas (JP, MBA, Dip Counselling, Dip Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy, ASCH Board Member, Counselling Psychotherapist, Clinical Hypnotherapist | Community Leader | Mental Health & Disability Advocate), is passionate about unlocking the potential within individuals through the transformative power of a range of therapy tools, especially hypnotherapy. As a community leader and advocate, Helen actively engages in initiatives that promote community health and wellbeing and inclusivity. Helen's advocacy extends to championing the rights of individuals with disabilities and mental health issues ensuring their voices are heard and respected.

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