An estimated 2.9 million adults in Great Britain currently use e-cigarettes and of these, 1.5 million people have completely stopped smoking cigarettes. They carry a fraction of the risk of cigarettes and can be particularly effective when combined with extra quitting support.
An e-cigarette (sometimes referred to as a vapouriser or vape) is a device that allows you to inhale nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke. E-cigarettes don't burn tobacco and don't produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most damaging elements in tobacco smoke. E-cigarettes work by heating a solution (e-liquid) that typically contains nicotine, propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerine, and flavourings. Using an e-cigarette is known as vaping.
What types of e-cigarette are there?
There are a variety of models available:
- Cigalikes: These look similar to tobacco cigarettes. They tend to have small batteries and can be disposable or rechargeable.
- Vape pens: These devices are shaped like a pen or small tube. They have a tank to store e-liquid and replaceable coils. The batteries tend to last longer than cigalike batteries.
- Mods: Mods come in a range of shapes and sizes but are generally the largest e-cigarette devices, with longer lasting batteries.
How do I choose the right e-cigarette for me?
For many people, the choice between a cigalike, vape pen or mod will be based on how much they smoke. A rechargeable e-cigarette with a refillable tank delivers nicotine more effectively and quickly than a disposable model and is likely to give you a better chance of quitting smoking.
- If you're a lighter smoker, a cigalike or vape pen could suffice.
- If you are a heavier smoker, it's advisable to try a vape pen or mod.
It's also important to choose the right strength of e-liquid to satisfy your needs. A specialist e-cigarette retailer can help you find the right device for you, or you can get advice from your community pharmacy or local stop smoking service.
There is growing evidence that e-cigarettes can help people stop smoking. Using an e-cigarette can help you manage your nicotine cravings. To get the best out of it, make sure you're using it as much as you need to and with the right strength of nicotine in your e-liquid. You won't get the full benefit from vaping unless you stop smoking cigarettes completely. You can get advice from specialist vape shops or your local stop smoking service.
Are there any risks associated with e-cigarettes?
In the UK e-cigarettes are tightly regulated for safety and quality. They aren't completely risk free, but they carry a small fraction of the risk of cigarettes. E-cigarettes don't produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke. The liquid and vapour contain some potentially harmful chemicals also found in cigarette smoke but at much lower levels.
Public Health England's 2015 independent evidence review found that, based on the available evidence, vaping is around 95% less harmful than smoking. The Royal College of Physicians came to a similar conclusion in its 2016 report 'Nicotine without smoke: tobacco harm reduction'.
This short video explains some of the key facts on e-cigarette safety.
What about risks from nicotine?
While nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes, it is relatively harmless. Almost all of the harm from smoking comes from the thousands of chemicals contained in tobacco smoke, many of which are toxic. Nicotine replacement therapy has been widely used for many years to help people to stop smoking and is a safe form of treatment.
Are e-cigarettes safe to use in pregnancy?
Little research has been conducted into the safety of e-cigarettes in pregnancy, however they are likely to be significantly less harmful to a pregnant woman and her baby than cigarettes. The Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group, which includes the Royal College of Midwives and leading UK baby charities, has produced the following advice:
- If you are pregnant, licensed NRT products such as patches and gum are the recommended option to help you stop smoking. However, if you find using an e-cigarette helpful for quitting and staying smokefree, it is much safer for you and your baby than continuing to smoke.
Do they pose a fire risk?
There have been instances of e-cigarettes exploding or catching fire. As with all rechargeable electrical equipment, to manage fire risk the correct charger for the device should always be used. In addition e-cigarettes should not be left charging unattended or overnight. You should buy your e-cigarette products from a reputable retailer to ensure they are compliant with UK safety regulations.
E-cigarettes can be bought from vape shops, pharmacies and other retail outlets. E-cigarettes aren't currently available from the NHS on prescription.
So far, there is no evidence that vaping causes harm to other people around you. The available evidence indicates that any risk of harm is extremely low, especially when compared with secondhand tobacco smoke.
The UK has one of the most comprehensive systems of regulation for e-cigarettes in the world. This includes:
- minimum standards of safety and quality
- packaging and labelling requirements
- a ban on advertising in print, broadcast, online and other electronic media
- a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s and on purchase by adults on behalf of under-18s
Reporting a safety concern with e-cigarettes
If you suspect you have experienced a side effect to your health from using your e-cigarette, or would like to report a product defect, please report these via the Yellow Card Scheme.
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