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Vaping and e-cigarettes

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) or vapes have become a popular substitute for smoking in recent years. They offer two ways to help stop smoking: they give you something to hold and draw on, imitating a cigarette, and they can provide nicotine as an alternative means of replacement.

But e-cigarettes are still relatively new, and research is ongoing to determine their safety, whether they are effective at helping people to stop smoking, and to accurately quantify how much less harmful than tobacco cigarettes they are.

While it’s too early to define the long-term effects, they are thought to pose less of a risk than cigarettes. They may act as a useful stop-smoking aid alongside guidance in changing your behavior patterns. This is to cut down and hopefully stop for good, but the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved e-cigarettes as a quit-smoking aid.

Studies show that you are far more likely to quit smoking with specialist support, and they help you through every step. They can advise on e-cigarettes and arm you with the knowledge of finding the safest products, how to use them, and when to wean yourself off them.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), such as skin patches, lozenges, gum, or breath sprays, may be helpful. NRT can be given alone or alongside drug treatments such as varenicline and Zyban (bupropion hydrochloride).

Do they contain nicotine and harmful chemicals?

E-cigarettes usually contain nicotine, which is the addictive chemical in tobacco. They can be used instead of other NRT therapies, giving you the nicotine hit you need to stop cravings. This is a short-term measure on your road to quitting cigarettes as your body gradually gets used to life without nicotine.

E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, which, when burnt, becomes a harmful component of cigarettes. The potentially harmful substances in e-cigarettes are chemicals used for flavorings. Ensuring high-quality products, heating elements, and reputable brands are good ways to minimize your risks from vaping.

There were cases of severe lung damage related to vaping a few years ago in the US. Still, the e-cigarettes used were found to be contaminated with illicit drugs and specific harmful substances, which are banned in most e-cigarette markets.

Can I take up vaping, even if I don’t smoke?

The US medical authorities advise not to take up vaping if you are not trying to cut down or give up smoking. It is not risk-free, as they are delivering chemicals to the lungs, and research on long-term effects is unknown so far.

It is also advised to use them solely as a stop-smoking aid rather than continuing to use them after successfully quitting cigarettes.

It’s worth considering the financial burden that e-cigarettes add, as they can be expensive. Although it's estimated that vaping costs less than half as much as smoking – if you need any more incentive to quit.

Is vaping safe around children and in pregnancy?

We are used to the concept of passive smoking, where smoke causes damage to those around us over time. E-cigarettes do not release damaging fumes and poisonous chemicals to your children or anyone nearby. However, some find the vapor or misting released is unpleasant, and you may consider choosing a device that allows this feature to be turned off.

The nicotine in e-cigarettes may be harmful to the developing fetus during pregnancy. It’s always better to avoid any unnecessary chemicals, so if you’ve quit smoking, we would also support stopping vaping through pregnancy until further safety data are available.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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