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Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigs or vapourisers, are often made to look or feel like real cigarettes.  Most (although not all) electronic cigarettes contain nicotine (but don’t contain tobacco) and as nothing is burning they don’t produce smoke.  

Whilst e-cigarettes do not produce smoke, users exhale a smoke-like vapour consisting largely of propylene glycol and glycerine.  There is little evidence of harmful effects in the short to medium term from repeated exposure to these chemicals, and an absence of evidence of significant harm to bystanders caused by e-cigarettes.  

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend that quitting all forms of nicotine use is the best option for smokers.  However, e-cigs are proving more attractive to some smokers than Nicotine Replacement Therapy, and can be effective in helping smokers quit.  Emerging evidence suggests some of the highest successful quit rates are now seen among smokers who use an e-cigarette and also receive additional support from their local stop smoking services.  

An evidence review published by Publish Health England in August 2015 concluded that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than tobacco and have the potential to help smokers quit smoking.  

Key findings of the review included:

  • the current best estimate is that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than smoking
  • nearly half the population (44.8%) don’t realise e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking
  • there is no evidence so far that e-cigarettes are acting as a route into smoking for children or non-smokers  

The comprehensive review of the evidence finds that almost all of the 2.6 million adults using e-cigarettes in Great Britain are current or ex-smokers, most of whom are using the devices to help them quit smoking or to prevent them going back to cigarettes. It also provides reassurance that very few adults and young people who have never smoked are becoming regular e-cigarette users (less than 1% in each group).  

All current evidence finds that e-cigarettes carry a fraction of the risk of smoking although there are some concerns that electronic cigarettes will re-normalise smoking and threaten the established practice of smokefree public places.

E-cigs and pregnancy

E-cigs are not harmless - the vapour they produce contains some toxins, but studies have shown that these are at levels far lower than those found in tobacco smoke.  On the available evidence, using an e-cigarette is a great deal safer than smoking.  

There are unanswered questions on the effects of longer term use however, and we don't know about any risks to the unborn baby from exposure to vapour.  Mothers-to-be who smoke are recommended to use licensed NRT products to help them quit.  However, if they do choose to use an e-cigarette they should not be discouraged from doing so if it helps them stop smoking. Local Stop Smoking Services, such as Help2Quit in Shropshire, can offer help and advice. 

Help2Change position statement: E-cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes

 

If you would like further information, please consult the 'helpful links' section on this page.

Fact Zone


E-cigarettes are not regulated under smokefree law in the UK.
There are nearly 8,000 different names of e-cigarette flavours and over 460 brands of e-cigarettes sold online.  
Use of e-cigarettes has increased steadily among smokers and ex-smokers.
Health consequences of the use of e-cigarettes and the vapour they give off are unknown.
Compared to tobacco products, current evidence suggests electronic cigarettes are less harmful.
E-cigarettes do not produce smoke as there is nothing burning.

 

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