Feature Article

Electronic cigarettes: what should you tell your patients?

Colin P Mendelsohn, Coral Gartner



Patients are increasingly asking their GPs about electronic cigarettes. Should they try them? Are they safe? Are they legal? GPs need to be ready to answer these questions.

Key Points

  • Electronic cigarettes (ECs) are battery-powered devices that create an aerosol of a liquid for inhalation; they can deliver effective nicotine doses and simulate the behaviour of smoking.
  • Increasing numbers of tobacco smokers in Australia are using ECs to quit or reduce smoking.
  • The limited evidence so far suggests that ECs may be effective smoking cessation aids; their use appears substantially safer than smoking, although there are no long-term safety data at present.
  • ECs may have a therapeutic role for smokers who have been unsuccessful with or are intolerant of TGA-approved stop-smoking medications.
  • ECs are likely to be most effective in conjunction with GP support and counselling and other antismoking therapies.
  • Concerns that ECs may renormalise smoking and act as a gateway to smoking for young people can potentially be addressed by strong regulatory controls.

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