Over recent years, e-cigarettes have become a very popular stop smoking aid in the UK. Evidence is still developing on how effective they are, but many people have found them helpful for quitting. An electronic cigarette, also referred to as an e-cigarette, is a device that allows you to inhale nicotine without most of the harmful effects of smoking, mimicking the act of tobacco smoking, and is used by some people instead of smoking conventional cigarettes due to the reduced health dangers. E-cigarettes work by heating and creating a vapour from a solution that typically contains nicotine, a thick, colourless liquid called propylene glycol and/or glycerine and flavourings. As there is no burning involved, there is no smoke.
Electronic cigarettes look very much like conventional ones and can also contain nicotine in the same quantity as conventional cigarettes. The amount of nicotine released can be determined by the user – some will choose high levels whilst others will choose nothing at all. Some e-cigarettes, however, do not resemble conventional cigarettes at all - the choice will depend on each individual.
E-cigarettes do not produce tar and carbon monoxide (two of the main toxins in conventional cigarette smoke). The vapour from e-cigarettes has been found to contain some potentially harmful chemicals also found in cigarette smoke, but at much lower levels.
As well as potential health benefits, e-cigarettes are substantially cheaper than conventional cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are still relatively new and we won’t have a full picture on their safety until they have been in use for many years. However, according to current evidence on e-cigarettes, they carry a fraction of the risk of cigarettes.
New rules for e-cigarettes and their refill containers came into effect in the UK on 20 May 2016. These rules ensure that there are minimum standards for the safety and quality of all e-cigarettes and refill containers.
Sources used in writing this article are available on request
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Information written by the talkhealth team
Last revised: 18 March 2018
Next review: 18 March 2021