Are e-cigarettes harmful?

  • Research so far shows that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking
  • They do not contain tobacco, which causes the damage from smoking. They usually contain nicotine, which is addictive but doesn’t cause cancer
  • For some, e-cigarettes could be an option to help them stop smoking tobacco

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or vapes) heat a liquid so that it becomes a vapour that people can breathe in, as they would smoke from a tobacco cigarette.

Do e-cigarettes have side effects?

Studies show that levels of many harmful chemicals are much lower in people who switch from tobacco to e-cigarettes. Exposure may be similar to people who use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), such as patches or gum, and these have been shown to be safe enough to prescribe.

Some potentially dangerous chemicals have been found in e-cigarettes, but usually at levels far lower than in tobacco. As they have only become popular in recent years, we can’t yet know about the effects of long-term use. 

Research shows vaping is far less harmful than smoking

Are there benefits to using e-cigarettes?

We don't recommend that non-smokers start using e-cigarettes, but they have become a popular stop smoking tool in England. They can give cigarette smokers the nicotine hit they need to help beat their cravings, without the same damaging cocktail of chemicals found in tobacco smoke. Some might find that e-cigarettes can replicate some of the physical aspects of cigarette smoking, like holding a cigarette and inhaling.

Get advice from your GP, pharmacist or specialist advisor at your free, local Stop Smoking Service for the best chance of stubbing out cigarettes for good.

Many people are also able to save hundreds of pounds a year after stopping smoking cigarettes. Some people will spend more than others, but generally vaping costs half as much as cigarettes.

There's more about our policy on e-cigarette here

10 common questions about e-cigarettes answered

Is it okay to smoke and vape? How can e-cigarettes help me stop smoking? Dr Andy McEwan answers 10 of the most commonly asked questions on e-cigarettes.

Each person needs to find what works best for them, but here are some tips that can help you use an e-cigarette to stop smoking:

  • Use your e-cigarette as often as you need.

Don’t wait for your cravings to tempt you to reach for a cigarette. Like with nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs), you may need to use it often to keep you from smoking.

  • Help is available.

As with other quitting aids, e-cigarettes are likely to be more successful with support from a trained advisor. Visit your free, local Stop Smoking Services to give yourself the best chance of ditching cigarettes for good. Or find out more on nhs.uk/smokefree.

  • Experiment.

Research suggests it may be easier to beat your cravings with the newer devices as they deliver nicotine more effectively than older ones. You may also find that in order to satisfy cravings for tobacco, the way you vape is different to your previous pattern of smoking cigarettes. People can find it helpful to ask other vapers or use forums about different types of e-cigarettes and how to use them.

  • Consider all options.

Using an e-cigarette may not feel exactly the same as smoking. If it doesn't work for you, there are still many options available, including medications and support from Stop Smoking Services. You can also use an e-cigarette alongside NRTs if you prefer.

  • Be smart on safety

As with any chemicals you use at home, make sure to keep your e-liquid and e-cigarette stored safely. You can find out more on regulation of e-cigarettes on the NHS website.

McNeill, A. et al. Evidence review of e- cigarettes and heated tobacco products 2018. A report commissioned by Public Health England (2018).

Royal College of Physicians. Nicotine without smoke: Tobacco harm reduction. (2016).

Kotz, D., Brown, J. and West, R. ‘Real-world’ effectiveness of smoking cessation treatments: a population study. Addiction. 109, 491–499 (2014).

Goniewicz, M. L. et al. Exposure to Nicotine and Selected Toxicants in Cigarette Smokers Who Switched to  Electronic Cigarettes: A Longitudinal Within-Subjects Observational Study. Nicotine Tob. Res. 19, 160–167 (2017).

Caponnetto, P. et al. EffiCiency and Safety of an eLectronic cigAreTte (ECLAT) as Tobacco Cigarettes Substitute: A Prospective 12-Month Randomized Control Design Study. PLoS One 8, e66317 (2013).

Burstyn, I. Peering through the mist: systematic review of what the chemistry of contaminants in electronic cigarettes tells us about health risks. BMC Public Health. 14, 18 (2014).
 

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Find out more about some common myths surrounding e-cigarettes here and on our blog.