Many people find e-cigarettes – also known as vapes – helpful for stopping smoking. E-cigarettes aren’t completely risk free but they carry a small fraction of the risk of cigarettes. Quitting with an e-cigarette is particularly effective when combined with expert face-to-face support.
What Are E-cigs?
An e-cigarette is a device that allows you to inhale nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke. E-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco and don’t produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most damaging constituents in cigarette 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.
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 and are rechargeable.
- Pod systems: These are compact rechargeable devices, often shaped like a USB stick or a pebble and operating with pre-filled or refillable e-liquid pods. They are simple to use and to maintain.
- Mods: Mods come in a range of shapes and sizes but are generally the largest e-cigarette devices. They have a refillable tank, longer lasting rechargeable batteries and variable power.
For many people, the choice between a cigalike, vape pen, pod system or mod will be based on personal preference. Some types of device deliver nicotine more effectively and quickly than others and are likely to give you a better chance of quitting smoking.
- If you’re a lighter smoker, a cigalike, vape pen or pod system could suffice.
- If you’re a heavier smoker, it’s advisable to try a vape pen, pod system or mod.
It’s also important to choose the right strength of nicotine e-liquid to satisfy your needs. you can get advice from your local stop smoking service.
Many thousands of people in the UK have already stopped smoking with the help of an e-cigarette, and there is growing evidence that they can be effective. A major UK clinical trial found that, when combined with expert face-to-face support, people who used e-cigarettes to quit smoking were twice as likely to succeed as people who used other nicotine replacement products such as patches or gum.
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.
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 contain tobacco and don’t produce carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful constituents in cigarette smoke.
Leading health organisations including the Royal College of General Practitioners, British Medical Association and Cancer Research UK agree that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking. Based on the currently available evidence, Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians estimate they are at least 95% less harmful.
In this short video experts explain the key facts on e-cigarette safety. There is also an extended version of the video covering wider safety aspects.
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 other 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, provides the following advice:
- If you are pregnant, licensed nicotine replacement therapy 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. To manage fire risk:
- always use the correct charger for the device
- don’t leave your e-cigarette charging unattended or overnight
- don’t carry an e-cigarette in your pocket next to coins or keys
- always buy your e-cigarette products from a reputable retailer to make sure they are compliant with UK safety regulations
RoSPA and the Chief Fire Officers Association have produced safety advice for parents on vaping in the home.
This short video gives top tips for safer vaping.
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.
There is no evidence so far that vaping causes harm to other people around you. This is in contrast to smoking, where exposure to secondhand smoke is known to be very harmful to health.
Unlike cigarettes, there is no side-stream vapour released by an e-cigarette into the atmosphere, just the exhaled aerosol. Unlike tobacco smoke, e-cigarette vapour dissipates quickly in the atmosphere.
Public Health England’s 2018 independent evidence review found that to date, there have been no identified health risks of passive vaping to bystanders.