What are e-cigarettes and how do they work?
An e-cigarette is a device that allows you to inhale nicotine in a vapour rather than smoke.
E-cigarettes do not burn tobacco and do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most damaging elements in tobacco smoke.
They work by heating a 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 look similar to tobacco cigarettes and can be disposable or rechargeable.
- Vape pens are shaped like a pen or small tube, with a tank to store e-liquid, replaceable coils and rechargeable batteries.
- Pod systems are compact rechargeable devices, often shaped like a USB stick or a pebble, with e-liquid capsules.
- Mods come in different shapes and sizes, but are generally the largest e-cigarette devices. They have a refillable tank, longer lasting rechargeable batteries, and variable power.
How do I choose the right e-cigarette for me?
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, you could try a cigalike, vape pen or pod system.
- 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 e-liquid to satisfy your needs.
A specialist vape shop can help find the right device and liquid for you.
You can get advice from a specialist vape shop or your local stop smoking service.
Will an e-cigarette help me stop smoking?
Many thousands of people in the UK have already stopped smoking with the help of an e-cigarette. There’s growing evidence that they can be effective.
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.
A major UK clinical trial published in 2019 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.
You will not get the full benefit from vaping unless you stop smoking cigarettes completely. You can get advice from a specialist vape shop or your local stop smoking service.
Getting expert help from your local stop smoking service gives you the best chance of quitting smoking for good.
Find your local stop smoking service
How safe are e-cigarettes?
In the UK, e-cigarettes are tightly regulated for safety and quality.
They’re not completely risk free, but they carry a small fraction of the risk of cigarettes.
E-cigarettes do not 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.
What about risks from nicotine?
While nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes, it’s relatively harmless.
Almost all of the harm from smoking comes from the thousands of other chemicals in tobacco smoke, many of which are toxic.
Nicotine replacement therapy has been widely used for many years to help people stop smoking and is a safe treatment.
Are e-cigarettes safe to use in pregnancy?
Little research has been conducted into the safety of e-cigarettes in pregnancy, but they’re likely to be much less harmful to a pregnant woman and her baby than cigarettes.
If you’re pregnant, licensed NRT products such as patches and gum are the recommended option to help you stop smoking.
But if you find using an e-cigarette helpful for quitting and staying smokefree, it’s 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 devices, the correct charger should be used and the device should not be left charging unattended or overnight.
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, report these via the Yellow Card Scheme.
Is e-cigarette vapour harmful to others?
There’s no evidence so far that vaping causes harm to other people around you.
This is in contrast to secondhand smoke from smoking, which is known to be very harmful to health.
Can I get an e-cigarette from my GP?
E-cigarettes are not currently available from the NHS on prescription, so you cannot get one from your GP.
You can buy them from specialist vape shops, some pharmacies and other retailers, or on the internet.
For more information and advice on using e-cigarettes to help quit smoking, visit Better Health.
Page last reviewed: 29 March 2019
Next review due: 29 March 2022
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