Despite claims that they're the safer alternative to tobacco-based products, the usage of e-cigarettes may still cause legal and safety complications for property managers.

As the popularity of electronic cigarettes spreads in Australia due to the perception that they pose fewer health risks than conventional cigarettes, property managers must remain fully apprised of the potential hazards and legal ramifications of their usage.

While strict laws apply to the usage of tobacco cigarettes in certain areas due to the health impacts of second hand smoke, potential ambiguity continues to surround the application of such laws to e-cigarettes, given the fact that the devices operate in a completely different manner.

E-cigarettes are essentially battery-powered vaporisers which do not contain tobacco or produce tobacco smoke. The devices instead deliver nicotine to users in the form of an aerosol, which is created by an electrical heating element that atomises a liquid nicotine solution.

Manufacturers claim that the absence of tobacco and tobacco smoke makes the devices a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes, with fewer carcinogens or toxic components, and less likelihood of nicotine addiction forming in users.

Leading medical experts disagree however, with the World Health Organization (WHO) publishing a report in August 2014 calling for a ban on the usage of the devices indoors, restrictions on advertising and sales, and strict regulation of their contents.

Local governments in Australia have already responded to such concerns by adopting measures to ensure that e-cigarettes are subject to the same laws as those of the tobacco-based variety.

As of January 1, Queensland became the first legal jurisdiction in the world to make e-cigarettes subject to the same legal restrictions as traditional tobacco cigarettes, prohibiting their usage in indoor or outdoor public areas.

Queensland’s decision is a world first, and could inspire other local governments within Australia to follow suit.

In addition to the need to remain apprised of the local legal status of e-cigarettes, property managers should also be aware of another major hazard that accompanies usage of the devices – that of potential fires.

A number of fires that have occurred around the world in a variety of contexts – including apartments and airplane cargo decks, have been imputed to the malfunction e-cigarettes.

It is believed that the improper usage of battery chargers or the unintended overcharging of the e-cigarettes has the potential to spark fires by causing the device to overheat, or in extreme circumstances even explode.