Many thousands of smokers are quitting with e-cigarettes. There is growing evidence that they can help people stop smoking for good. Using an e-cigarette isn't completely risk free, but it is much less harmful than smoking and can be especially effective when combined with extra additional quitting support to help you quit.
An e-cigarette is a device that allows you to inhale nicotine through a vapour rather than smoke. E-cigarettes come in a variety of models and work by heating a solution that typically contains nicotine, propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerine, and flavourings. Unlike cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not burn tobacco and do not produce tar or carbon monoxide. They are ‘vaped’ rather than smoked and although the vapour contains some potentially harmful chemicals, also found in cigarette smoke, these are at much lower levels.
There is growing evidence that e-cigarettes can help people stop smoking, with similar or better results than nicotine replacement therapies such as patches. 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. Smokers who use an e-cigarette and get support from their local stop smoking service have the highest quit rates, with around two-thirds quitting successfully.
E-cigarettes come in a variety of different models and you’ll want to find the right one for you, and the right strength of e-liquid to satisfy your needs. Most current vapers use a rechargeable device with a refillable tank. These products typically deliver nicotine more effectively and quickly than disposable models, and this is likely to give you a better chance of quitting smoking. You can get advice from a specialist vape shop or your local stop smoking service.
E-cigarettes aren’t currently available from the NHS on prescription. Once medicinally licensed e-cigarette products come onto the UK market, healthcare professionals will be able to prescribe them alongside other stop smoking medicines. In the meantime, e-cigarettes can be bought from vape shops, pharmacies and other retail outlets.
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 report ’Nicotine without smoke: tobacco harm reduction’, published in 2016.
The evidence on e-cigarettes continues to develop and Public Health England is monitoring it closely.
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.
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.
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.
In the UK e-cigarettes are subject to comprehensive regulation including minimum standards of safety and quality, packaging and labelling requirements, and a ban on advertising in print, broadcast, online and other electronic media. It is illegal to sell e-cigarette products to anyone under18 or for adults to buy them on behalf of under-18s.
E-cigarettes have become the most popular stop smoking aid in England. An estimated 2.9 million adults in Great Britain currently use them. Of these, 1.5 million have completely stopped smoking and 1.3 million continue to smoke alongside their e-cigarette use. Among young people, experimentation with e-cigarettes is fairly common, with 11% of 11 to 16 year olds having tried them. However, regular e-cigarette use is rare, with only 1% using them at least weekly, and is largely confined to regular smokers.
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.