Clearing up some myths around e-cigarettes

No doubt you will have seen some of the stories in the media recently following the publication of PHE’s latest update of the evidence on e-cigarettes .  E-cigarettes do seem to be a bit like Marmite, courting controversy among the public and media alike.

Not surprisingly, there are lots of inaccuracies and misconceptions about e-cigarettes and vaping. This blog looks at the most common myths and provides the facts.

Our latest comprehensive independent e-cigarette review, authored by leading academics in the tobacco control field, looks at the up-to-date international data and peer-reviewed research.

Despite the sometimes confused, and confusing, media reporting around the safety of e-cigarettes, there is growing consensus around the evidence. While not without some risk, when compared to smoking e-cigarettes are far less harmful.

This view is supported by a number of key bodies, including Cancer Research UK, Action on Smoking and Health, the Royal College of Physicians, the British Medical Association and recently, a major US science body, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

For a fuller picture of the review’s findings please see our blog: Key questions and findings from our e-cigarette evidence update

MYTH 1 -  E-cigarettes give you ‘popcorn lung’

One of the most commonly held concerns is that e-cigarettes might cause ‘popcorn lung’. This came about because some flavourings used in e-liquids to provide a buttery flavour contain the chemical diacetyl, which at very high levels of exposure has been associated with the serious lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans.

The condition gained its popular name because it was initially observed among workers in a popcorn factory.

However, diacetyl is banned as an ingredient from e-cigarettes and e-liquids in the UK. It had been detected in some e-liquid flavourings in the past, but at levels hundreds of times lower than in cigarette smoke. Even at these levels, smoking is not a major risk factor for this rare disease.

MYTH 2  - E-cigarettes aren’t regulated and we don’t know what’s in them

The UK has some of the strictest regulation for e-cigarettes in the world.  Under the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016, e-cigarette products are subject to minimum standards of quality and safety, as well as packaging and labelling requirements to provide consumers with the information they need to make informed choices.

All products must be notified by manufacturers to the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), with detailed information including the listing of all ingredients.

MYTH 3 - E-cigarettes must be harmful as they contain nicotine

Some four out of 10 smokers wrongly think nicotine causes most of the tobacco smoking-related cancer, when evidence shows nicotine actually carries minimal risk of harm to health. Although nicotine is the reason people become addicted to smoking, it is the thousands of chemicals contained in cigarette smoke that causes almost all of the harm.

E-cigarettes do not contain tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke.   They do contain some chemicals also found in tobacco smoke, but at much lower levels.

MYTH 4 - Exposure to e-cigarette vapour is harmful to bystanders

The evidence is clear that exposure to second hand smoke is harmful, which is why the UK has laws prohibiting smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces. These laws do not cover vaping and organisations are free to make their own policies on the use of e-cigarettes on their premises.

E-cigarette liquid is typically composed of nicotine, propylene glycol and/or glycerine, and flavourings. Unlike cigarettes, there is no side-stream vapour emitted by an e-cigarette into the atmosphere, just the exhaled aerosol.

PHE’s latest evidence review found that to date, there have been no identified health risks of passive vaping to bystanders. People with asthma and other respiratory conditions can be sensitive to a range of environmental irritants, which could include e-cigarette vapour, and PHE advises organisations to take this into account and to make adjustments where appropriate.

MYTH 5 - E-cigarettes will lead young people into smoking

Our report found no evidence so far to support the concern that e-cigarettes are a route into smoking among young people. UK surveys show that young people are experimenting with e-cigarettes, but regular use is rare and confined almost entirely to those who already smoke. Meanwhile, smoking rates among young people in the UK continue to decline. PHE will continue to monitor the trends in e-cigarette use alongside those in smoking.

MYTH 6 - E-cigarettes are being used as a Trojan horse – so the tobacco industry can keep people smoking 

There is currently no evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes are encouraging people to continue smoking – the picture in the UK suggests the opposite. The proportion of e-cigarette users who are ex-smokers has been increasing over recent years.

Of the 2.9 million adult e-cigarette users in the UK, more than half have completely stopped smoking. A further 770,000 have given up both smoking and vaping. At the same time, quit success rates have been improving and we’re seeing an accelerated drop in smoking rates, currently at a record low of 15.5% in England.

Our evidence review indicates that e-cigarettes could be contributing to at least 20,000 successful new quits per year and possibly many more.

In summary, e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes are not the same and shouldn’t be treated as such. It’s important that England’s seven million smokers are aware of the differences and have accurate information to inform their health decisions. E-cigarettes aren’t completely risk free but carry a fraction of the risk of smoking and are helping thousands of smokers to quit and stay smokefree.


  1. Comment by Sara posted on

  2. Comment by DJ posted on

    Excellent blog.
    after a 38 year bad habit of 20-30 cigs a day i gave up on February 20th 2015 and started vaping and have not touched a cig since.
    i have just passed 3 years and since then i have saved over £10,000 and not smoked 21,900 cigarettes.
    its just a shame that we will undoutably still see false misleading fake news reports in the daily fail and mainstream newspapers and sadly people believe everything they read in the papers. once these reports are debuncked with actual facts i think they should be made to retract said reports with a disclaimer. just think how many more might take up this 95% safer option and it may even save their lives.

    • Replies to DJ>

      Comment by Matt posted on

      DJ, exactly the same as me! Quit smoking after 10 years of unfiltered roll ups, went on to a decent Ecig box mod (with 6mg juice) and haven't had a cigarette in over 2 years. Couldn't really ask for more from Ecigs than that.

  3. Comment by mike obrien posted on

    I was smoking 40 cigarettes a day but started using vapes 1st October 2017 and not had even one cigarette since( there have been days when i really really wanted a smoke but have not had one) breathing is getting better according to the surgery nurse after a test so I am staying with the vapes.

  4. Comment by Henry Murphy posted on

    i gave up a 30 a day smoking habit in Jan '16, and haven't smoked a cigarette since.I started using e cigarettes 2 weeks before i quit, and after trying everything available on the market to help me quit smoking, i have to say that, vaping with E cigarettes ,is definitely the way to quit for good! I have saved so much money in the past 2 years,and my health is so much better! I would recommend vaping e cigs if you really want to quit smoking!

  5. Comment by Mike Jay Morgan posted on

    I've used ecigs since 12th of December 2015, had been smoking 20-40 roll ups a day and my body just couldn't cope so I moved onto ecigarettes.

    During this entire time of ecigarette use, my breathing improved and I never developed any symptoms except from irritable eyes from the vapour itself.

    More needs to be done to prove that ecigs work as an alternative to smoking to the public.

  6. Comment by Gabriel Symonds posted on

    E-cigarettes should be seen for what they are: a means of continuing nicotine addiction in a way that it is hoped will be safer than smoking. But even if e-cigarettes turn out to be 100% safe, why should former smokers have to subject themselves to inhaling nicotine-laden fumes repeatedly throughout the day, every day, for years on end?

    If e-cigarettes are ‘contributing to at least 20,000 successful new quits per year’, and if this rate of attrition continues, for all of England’s seven million smokers to quit it will only take 350 years!

    • Replies to Gabriel Symonds>

      Comment by Schwarzy posted on

      Nicotine addiction isn’t a problem though. Thousands dying from smoking is. We don’t sit and fret that people drink coffee and have a possible addiction to caffeine.

  7. Comment by Barbara Campbell posted on

    I gave up on the 17th October 2016 after 40 years of smoking. I was diagnosed with mild emphysema and Bronchiectasis, I couldn't have done it without the help of vaping...feel so much better...

  8. Comment by R.Badhan posted on

    I started smoking at at a pretty young age and continued well into my 30's. Within a week of buying my first decent mod and tank i had practically kicked a 15 year habit. I found that i was addicted to the sensation of smoking more than nicotine or other substances.

    The fact that vaping is now recognised as being significantly safer than smoking by official medical channels is truly refreshing and i hope it helps lead more people away from such a harmful habit.

  9. Comment by chris delbert posted on

    American here..(sorry about Trump, not my fault..)

    Stopped smoking cigs 3 years ago, and started vaping. I feel better, look better, smell better, and I'm back to hiking, mountain biking, camping, etc... I have my girlfriend to thank for it, she wants me to live.

    Currently working on phasing out the vaping, hope to be completely free of all of it within the year.

    Thanks for an insightful article.


  10. Comment by Sharon posted on

    I smoked for over 40 years, I tried numerous times to give up over the years and the most I ever managed was 3 months until I started vaping. I haven’t had a cigarette since 3rd January 2017. I still vape but could stop at anytime as I no longer have nicotine. My husband gave up at the same time and he didn’t even want to.

  11. Comment by David posted on

    Excellent article at last

  12. Comment by Stuart posted on

    June 2015 I stopped smoking after 22 years of a 30-40 a day habit. This couldn't have happened without my vape. After a few months at the highest nicotine I stepped down then a few months on that and so forth until middle of last year when I went to 0 nicotine! A few months of struggling and nearly cracking then January this year I'm completely vape free. If I'd have listened to all the doom and gloom I'd still be smoking now, stinking, unable to breathe, unhealthy and a lot poorer for it all!!!

  13. Comment by Ken Heffernan posted on

    I smoked 40-60 smokes a day for over 30 years and had tried everything to quit but always failed and went back to smoking. Just over 5 years ago I discovered vaping and since then I have bot smoked since, for the last 18 months I now do not even use nicotine. My health has improved I have lost weight as I know walk a lot without being out of breath, vaping has saved my life.

  14. Comment by Dirk posted on

    Being from the Netherlands born in May 1947 and a frequent visitor of the UK I came in to contact with e-cigarettes in whilst in England,I bought a mod and tried several times but layed it aside as not something for me,I only used it on the ferry whilst crossing to the UK.
    After a year and a half I tried again whilst in the mean time looking for the right e-liquid for me,as all I wanted was the smoking sensation of rolled tobacco after some months I managed to find the right liquid with little amount of nicotine and without any flavour and over 3 months totally I was stopped smoking tobacco and haven’t touch or bought roll tobacco,right now smoke free for 8 months and that after 59 !! Years of smoking I started with the age of 12 and in a few weeks turn 71
    What I do notice is : no cold feet in winter anymore,improved taste and smell,all in all it improved my health whilst still having a kind of “smoke” sensation without the need to go outside in the garden as I can vape inside even my poodle isn’t bothered and animals are very sensitive normally
    I’m very pleased with it

  15. Comment by Paul Turner posted on

    Nothing that I didn't already know but a good article. Smoked 30 to 40 roll ups for over 40 years, I knew it was killing me but just couldn't give up. Got my first e-cig in June 2010 and within a week I stopped smoking and have not smoked since. The restrictions they are trying to put on vaping is to be blunt, just down right criminal!

  16. Comment by Philip donnelly posted on

    I've literally just started vaping after 40 years of smoking roll ups and cigarettes I do get tempted every so often to smoke but so far haven't I'm also noticing now that cigarette smoke has a horrible smell to it and that's what others smell on you when your a smoker in just a week of vaping my breathing has calmed down and my sleep pattern is a lot better


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