Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are designed for users to inhale nicotine without most of the harmful effects of smoking. They deliver nicotine by heating and vapourising a solution that typically contains nicotine, propylene glycol and/or glycerine, and flavourings. As there is no burning involved, there is no smoke. Unlike cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not produce tar and carbon monoxide. The vapour has been found to contain some toxicants also found in cigarette smoke, but at much lower levels.
An e-cigarette is a device that allows you to inhale nicotine without most of the harmful effects of smoking.
E-cigarettes work by heating and creating a vapour from a solution that typically contains nicotine, propylene glycol and/or glycerine, and flavourings. As there is no burning involved, there is no smoke. Unlike cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not produce tar and carbon monoxide. The vapour has been found to contain some potentially harmful chemicals also found in cigarette smoke, but at much lower levels.
E-cigarettes generally consist of a battery, a vapourising chamber and e-cigarette liquid. The liquid can be contained in a sealed cartridge or can be added to a tank system. Some e-cigarettes use an atomiser cartridge or ‘cartomiser’ that combines the vapourising system and e-cigarette liquid in a single unit.
The ‘first generation’ e-cigarettes are typically designed to look like a cigarette and generally use a cartomiser. ‘Second generation’ devices do not resemble cigarettes and contain a tank that the user fills with their choice of e-cigarette liquid, with various strengths and flavours available. More recently ‘third generation’ devices have emerged which have variable voltage and can be used with a range of atomisers, cartomisers and tank systems.
E-cigarettes are not risk free, but based on current evidence they carry a fraction of the risk of cigarettes. Public Health England’s independent review of the latest evidence found that using an e-cigarette (known as ‘vaping’) is around 95% safer than smoking.
As well as nicotine, e-cigarette liquid and vapour can contain potentially harmful chemicals, although these are either at much lower levels than seen in cigarette smoke or at levels not associated with health risk.
E-cigarettes are still fairly new and we won’t have a full picture on their safety until they have been in use for many years. Public Health England will continue to monitor the evidence as it develops.
The safety profile of e-cigarettes is still being established. Therefore it is important to report any potential safety concerns associated with the use of e-cigarette products. If you suspect you have experienced a side effect to your health from using your e-cigarette or would like to report a safety concern relating to a product defect, please report these via the Yellow Card Scheme.
There is no evidence of harm to bystanders from exposure to e-cigarette vapour and available evidence indicates that any risk of harm is extremely low, especially when compared with tobacco smoke.
Evidence indicates that e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking, with similar or better results than nicotine replacement therapies such as patches or gum. It is important to use your e-cigarette enough to properly manage your cravings – people who use e-cigarettes too little or too rarely have less success at quitting smoking. The most effective way to quit is with face-to-face expert support and this is available free from local NHS stop smoking services. People who combine e-cigarettes with this extra help have a very good chance of success – in 2014-15, two out of three people who did so managed to quit smoking. Find your local stop smoking service.
The type of e-cigarette used may make a difference to your quit attempt. The findings of a study by researchers at King’s College London and University College London indicate that daily use of tank models may give smokers a better chance of quitting.
E-cigarettes are not currently available from the NHS on prescription. Once medicinally licensed e-cigarette products come onto the market, GPs and stop smoking services will be able to prescribe them alongside other stop smoking medicines.
If you are a smoker, the best thing you can do is stop smoking now and e-cigarettes can help people to quit. We don’t recommend people carry on smoking alongside using e-cigarettes except as part of a plan to stop smoking.
According to the 2015 ASH/YouGov Smokefree Britain Survey, 2.6 million adults in Great Britain currently use e-cigarettes. Of these, around 1.1 million have given up smoking while 1.4 million continue to use tobacco alongside their e-cigarette use. Among under-18s, while experimentation with e-cigarettes is fairly common, regular use is rare and almost entirely confined to those who have already smoked.
At present, e-cigarettes are only covered by general product safety legislation. This will change in May 2016 with the introduction of new regulations under the EU Tobacco Products Directive. E-cigarette products will either be licensed as medicines or, if unlicensed, will be subject to new quality and safety standards, new packaging and labelling requirements, and a prohibition on print and broadcast advertising.
In the meantime, a number of manufacturers have applied to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for licensing of their products. Medicines regulation will enable high quality, safe and effective products to be made available by the NHS on prescription.
With effect from 1 October 2015, the sale of e-cigarette products to under-18s in England and Wales is prohibited. It is also illegal for an adult to purchase e-cigarette products for someone under the age of 18.