Should I vape?

Is vaping safe? What chemicals do e-cigarettes really contain? Are they addictive? The Mix goes on a quest for truth about vaping and e-cigarettes.

boy vaping

It's better than smoking...right?

What is vaping?

It’s like smoking only instead of inhaling smoke filled with cancer-causing toxins to get your nicotine hit, you inhale vapour through an e-cigarette (e-cig) or vapouriser – a battery-powered gadget that converts liquid nicotine into a vapor.

Vaping products vary massively, but most contain three things: a battery, an atomiser, and a replaceable cartridge.

The cartridge contains varying levels of nicotine (this can be anything from zero to a massive 36mg – basically a Benson & Hedges minus the filter) mixed with propylene glycol or glycerin (or both), water and sometimes flavourings. When you inhale, the liquid is heated up and turns it into water vapour. They don’t contain tobacco, but some contain chemicals which can be harmful.

Designed to give you the look and feel of smoking, they were originally marketed as an aid to help smokers quit or cut down, but now non-smokers are taking up the habit.

Are e-cigarettes and vapourisers addictive?

Yes. While they’re probably less toxic than cigarettes, the bottom line is most still deliver nicotine into your lungs – and nicotine is highly addictive.

Health officials argue anything that contains nicotine should be treated with caution. Nicotine gives you a buzz and can make you feel more awake and positive, but when you try to withdraw it can lead to tiredness, irritability, hunger and cravings.

And equally addictive could be the habit itself – some people find vaping so soothing and sociable that puffing out vape rings can be hard to give up.

Is vaping harmful?

Here’s where it all gets a bit confusing. Because vapourisers don’t contain all the dangerous carcinogenic chemicals found in cigarettes they’re sold as a safer, cleaner alternative to smoking. However, this doesn’t mean vaping’s a harmless habit.

Toxic chemicals

Some e-cigs have been found to contain diethylene glycol instead of propylene glycol (the main ingredient in antifreeze) and acetaldehyde (a probable carcinogen). One study found much higher concentrations of formaldehyde (the stuff used to treat warts and verrucas) in e-cigs than regular cigarettes.

How much nicotine are you putting in your body?

Unlike smoking, you can vape anytime, anywhere, allowing you to constantly inhale nicotine. Our bodies quickly adapt to want more and more, and if you’re using a vape with a lot of nicotine in it, you could quickly find yourself sucking on the equivalent of a packet of fags a day.

However, vaping hasn’t yet been linked to cancer in the way cigarettes are. Most studies to date conclude that the only health risk of vaping is a dry throat and increased dehydration.

Will they help me to quit smoking?

The idea of e-cigarettes is to reproduce the smoking experience as closely as possible with enough of nicotine hit to stave off craving a cigarette. So if you want to quit smoking but find it hard to give up the physical act of holding a cigarette between your fingers, then yes, they will help. However, they won’t be available on the NHS until 2016.

Can I vape in public?

While it might not be appropriate to vape in a hospital waiting room, there are cafes and bars that are happy for you to puff out enough vapour to fill a dance floor. Common sense prevails here, but as a guideline here’s where you can and cannot vape:

  • Yes: most nightclubs, vape bars, and some cafes.
  • Maybe: restaurants (but check first), offices (but this largely depends on whether your boss vapes or not), some public transport.
  • No: Cinemas, theatres, airports – not inside or on a plane, museums or exhibitions.

Is vaping cheaper than smoking?

Like cigarettes, the cost of vaping will depend on your kit and usage.

You can buy the basic cigarette look-a-likey starter kit for around £8, which works out as the equivalent of 80 cigarettes. Then all you have to buy refills or cartridges, which typically cost around 80p each. Or you can go all out for a futuristic vapouriser complete with coded indestructible box and fancy accessories.

However, when you consider a pack of Malborough Lights cost nearly £9 for a pack of 20 that makes basic vape kits significantly cheaper than smoking.

Vaping and the law

Current UK and EU regulations require certain warnings on the packaging, and like cigarettes retailers aren’t allowed to sell them to under-18s.

The industry has been unregulated, but from 2016 they’ll be licensed and regulated as an aid to quit smoking. This means they’ll face stringent checks and doctors will be able to prescribe them to smokers to help them cut down or quit.

Next Steps

  • NHS Smokefree offers all sorts of advice and support to help you quit smoking.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Photo of vaping by Shutterstock