Electronic Cigarette FAQs


What are electronic cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigarettes or e-cigs) are battery powered devices that imitate a normal cigarette, but deliver a nicotine vapour instead of tobacco smoke. They are often designed to look like a traditional cigarette, down to a tip that glows when you inhale. Some electronic cigarettes are designed in different colours so they can easily be differentiated from normal cigarettes in public places.

The growth in popularity of electronic cigarettes has soared in recent years, with an estimated 1.3 million users in the UK in 2013.

How do electronic cigarettes work?

An electronic cigarette contains three components: a battery, an atomiser and a liquid containing nicotine suspended in propylene glycol and water. Some electronic cigarettes contain the liquid in a pre-filled cartomiser for convenience, while others have a tank to put the liquid in directly, which some people find great for mixing flavours.

When the user sucks on the electronic cigarette, the liquid is heated so that some of it evaporates. This vapour delivers nicotine into the user's lungs. There is no smoke, but some nicotine vapour is released into the surrounding air as the user exhales.

Why do people use electronic cigarettes?

Some people use electronic cigarettes to help them quit smoking. Most brands sell refills with different strength nicotine, so you can gradually lower the dose of nicotine you are getting, until you reach zero strength.

Other people use them as a way to carry on smoking while avoiding cigarette smoke and the 4000+ harmful toxins, substances and chemicals that come with it.

Can electronic cigarettes help smokers quit?

Electronic cigarettes are not licensed or marketed as aids to quit smoking. However, many people do use them in this way, and a 2013 study published in the online edition of The Lancet found that electronic cigarettes are at least as effective as nicotine patches in helping people to stop smoking.

The research by the University of Auckland in New Zealand is only the second controlled trial to be published evaluating electronic cigarettes, and the first to assess whether they are more or less effective than nicotine patches in helping people give up smoking. It found that 7.3% of those who had used nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes had successfully quit at the end of a 6 month period compared with 5.8% who had used nicotine patches. The authors concluded that while these results are not statistically significant, electronic cigarettes may be a more useful quitting tool as smokers generally preferred them over patches.

Are electronic cigarettes covered by the smoking ban?

No, electronic cigarettes are currently exempt from the smoking ban. However, some businesses may still ban them on their premises. Furthermore, the Welsh government is currently considering banning electronic cigarettes in enclosed public places.

Are electronic cigarettes regulated?

Currently, electronic cigarettes are subject to general consumer protection laws.

During 2014, the UK government is introducing legislation to make it illegal to sell electronic cigarettes to under-18s, as well as for an adult to buy them for a child; the same as currently applies to normal cigarettes.

The EU is updating the Tobacco Products Directive so that electronic cigarettes below a certain nicotine threshold can be sold with health warnings. Electronic cigarettes above this nicotine threshold will have to be authorised as medicinal products.

The MHRA wants to ensure that electronic cigarettes sold in the UK meet appropriate standards of safety, quality and efficacy to help reduce the harms from smoking. It is encouraging companies to voluntarily submit medicines licence applications for electronic cigarettes as medicines.

Are electronic cigarettes safe?

There have been some reports in the media lately about electronic cigarette batteries exploding or catching fire. In most of these cases, the cause has been incorrect charging. Always purchase a reputable brand, use only the charger supplied and follow the instructions carefully. Also, it is worth remembering that these are a handful of isolated cases, out of over 1 million currently used.

On the whole, most people consider electronic cigarettes to be safer than normal cigarettes. This conclusion has also been reached by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH): "e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine without the harmful toxins found in tobacco smoke, are likely to be a safer alternative to smoking", although they also support calls to regulate electronic cigarettes as part of reform of products containing nicotine.

However, there is currently very little scientific evidence on the health effects of electronic cigarettes.

An August 2012 study found that electronic cigarettes do not appear to be bad for heart function. Researchers compared the heart function of 20 daily smokers before and after smoking one tobacco cigarette to that of 22 electronic cigarette users before and after using the device for seven minutes. The people studied were healthy and varied in age from 25 to 45. The authors said that heart function got worse in the tobacco smokers and that their blood pressure and heart rate rose. People using electronic cigarettes experienced only a slight elevation in blood pressure.

There is some evidence to suggest that electronic cigarettes may affect lung function. Preliminary results presented in September 2012 at the European Respiratory Society’s Annual Congress in Vienna found that 'smoking' or 'vaping' an e-cigarette for 10 minutes caused an increase in airway resistance, obstructing the air getting into and out of the lungs. In healthy subjects who had never smoked there was a statistically significant increase in airway resistance. This study was based on a very small sample of people: eight had never smoked and 24 were smokers of whom 11 had normal lung function and 13 had either chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma.

A briefing paper by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in 2010 said one of the problems in assessing the safety of e-cigarettes stemmed from the number of models on the market that have not been tested