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What is in the vapour produced by e-cigarettes?

The vapour produced by an e-cigarette is inhaled and then exhaled by the person using it. The vapour is not smoke and contains far fewer chemicals than that produced by burning tobacco. E-cigarettes are regulated for safety and quality in the UK, which means lots of potentially damaging chemicals are banned from being added. Vapes are considered significantly less harmful than cigarettes. What does vape liquid contain? Vape liquids, e-liquids or e-juices will typically contain just a few compounds. These are there to give a versatile vaping experience to suit all tastes. You can easily find out what your favourite vape liquid contains as by law it is required to be listed on the label. Usually, e-liquid contains the following:


  • Water - added for consistency and to dilute some of the other contents.
  • Vegetable Glycerin (VG) - produced from vegetable oils it often makes up the bulk of vape liquid. VG is largely what produces the vape cloud. It's non-toxic and colourless and often used in food as a sweetener, a preservative, or a texture enhancer.
  • Propylene glycol - a tasteless, odourless, colourless alcohol that carries flavour well.
  • Flavouring - food-grade additives to provide all manner of delicious tastes.
  • Nicotine - provides the “hit” and is what makes e-cigs so effective as an alternative to smoking.

What is in the vapour from e-cigarettes? A vape pen heats up the e-juice to produce a vapour which you inhale and then exhale. Regular cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals, including over 40 carcinogenic compounds and over 400 other toxins. These include tar, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic and ammonia. As e-cigs are non-combustible they produce no smoke, ash, tar or carcinogens. What is inhaled and exhaled from an e-cigarette is based on the contents of the vape liquid - water, nicotine and the carrier chemicals (those that provide the solution which contains nicotine and flavourings). When you breathe in e-cigarette vapour, the following is true:


  • Inhaling water vapour in normal quantities is harmless. You would inhale far more water vapour from taking a shower than using an e-cigarette.
  • The amount of nicotine you inhale is generally less than that from traditional cigarettes. It should also be noted that the amount exhaled is negligible and is at levels so low it will have no impact on people nearby.
  • Propylene Glycol is inhaled when vaping but scientific studies have concluded this causes no harm. Also, much is exhaled when vaping.
  • Glycerin is inhaled when vaping but not at levels known to cause health concerns.


Is there anything I should worry about in e-cig vapour? There are some other chemicals inhaled when you vape and the press coverage which has produced alarmist headlines around vaping is based upon this. The main one was formaldehyde, but Public Health England has said that this was only found in high levels when vape liquid was heated to extremes way beyond everyday use. In normal use, this was 1/50th of that found in cigarette smoke. While vaping is not entirely risk-free, Public Health England has concluded that it is at least 95% safer than smoking cigarettes. No scientific study has yet to publish results to suggest e-cigs produce chemicals at levels which would be harmful to humans.

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