Navigation

Is vaping harmful?

profile picture of Elizabeth Rogers
Associate Clinical Director, Bupa Health Clinics
07 October 2021

As vaping becomes more popular, more people are asking if it’s safe. Here, I explain what vaping is and explore any harmful effects – to both you and those around you.

What is vaping?

Vaping is when you inhale nicotine as a water-based vapour. This vapour is created by an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) or another vaping device. There are different names for vaping devices, such as vape pens, cigalikes, tank systems and mods.

Is vaping safe?

All experts agree that not smoking at all is the safest option. But if you smoke, switching to vaping, or using vaping to help you quit, is much less harmful than continuing to smoke tobacco cigarettes.

Tobacco cigarettes produce smoke that contains thousands of chemicals (some of which are known to cause cancer). E-cigarettes produce vapour, instead of smoke, through the heating of liquids that contain nicotine.

Studies have found much lower levels of chemicals in e-cigarettes compared to tobacco cigarettes. In fact, Public Health England say they’re 95 percent safer than tobacco cigarettes.

Are vaping devices medically licenced?

There is currently no medically licensed vaping (e-cigarette) product available in the UK. This means that they haven’t been approved by the Medical and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

But, in the UK, we have some of the strictest regulations for e-cigarettes in the world. For example, lots of potentially harmful chemicals been banned from being added.

Regulations also control the volume and strength of refills. This is important because it means you know just how much you’re using.

Can my GP prescribe me a vaping device?

Your GP can’t prescribe you a vaping device because they’re not medically licenced. But they can prescribe other nicotine replacement therapies (NRT), such as patches, gums or inhalers. This is because there’s a lot more long-term safety data for these products, as they have been around for longer.

Is it safe to vape around my family?

There is no evidence that second-hand vaping (passive vaping) is harmful. But because vapes are still relatively new, we can’t be sure there aren’t any long-term effects.

Currently experts think passive vaping is unlikely to be harmful. They also think it’s definitely better than second-hand tobacco smoke.

There can be significant health impacts on people who breathe in tobacco smoke produced by cigarettes. This is called passive smoking. They can get the same diseases as smokers, including lung and heart problems and cancer.

Children are particularly vulnerable to passive smoking and are more likely to get:


Because of this, it’s been against the law to smoke in a vehicle containing a young person since October 2015.

Vaping accidents

There have been some incidents of young children being poisoned from drinking e-liquids. So, it’s important to make sure you store your e-cigarettes well away from children, as you would household cleaning products.

There have also been a few cases of e-cigarettes catching fire or exploding. But this is much less common than fires caused by tobacco smoking.

Is it safe to vape when I’m pregnant?

Smoking tobacco is known to contribute to cot death and underweight babies. It’s important that you stop smoking if you’re pregnant. Stopping smoking is one of the best things you (and anyone you live with) can do to protect the health of your baby.

There are fewer ingredients in e-cigarettes and at much lower levels. Because of this, scientists agree that vaping, or using other nicotine replacement therapies, is safer than smoking during pregnancy.

But although there’s no evidence to suggest nicotine harms unborn babies, there’s no evidence to confirm that it’s safe either. The safest option for you and your baby is to stop smoking entirely.

Does vaping cause popcorn lung?

Popcorn lung (bronchiolitis obliterans) is a rare type of lung disease. A possible cause of developing this condition is breathing in a chemical called diacetyl. The link was discovered when a group of popcorn factory workers, who used the chemical at work, developed it.

In the UK, diacetyl is a banned ingredient in e-cigarettes and vaping devices. So, e-liquids sold in the UK shouldn’t contain diacetyl.

So…to vape or not to vape?

Because vaping devices are relatively new products, we don’t yet know their long-term impact. But research so far shows that vaping is less harmful than smoking tobacco. It can also help you to stop smoking.

For the best chance of quitting for good, get advice from your GP or pharmacist or use your local Stop Smoking Service.


Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

profile picture of Elizabeth Rogers
Dr Elizabeth Rogers
Associate Clinical Director, Bupa Health Clinics

    • DeVito EE, Krishnan-Sarin DS. E-cigarettes: impact of e-liquid components and device characteristics on nicotine exposure. Current Neuropharmacology 2018; 16(4):438–59. doi:10.2174/1570159X15666171016164430
    • Health matters: stopping smoking – what works? Public Health England. www.gov.uk, last updated 17 December 2019
    • 8 things to know about e-cigarettes. UK Health Security Agency. ukhsa.blog.gov.uk, published 5 March 2020
    • E-cigarettes: regulations for consumer products. GOV.UK. www.gov.uk, last updated September 2021
    • Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised September 2021
    • Is vaping harmful? Cancer Research UK. www.cancerresearchuk.org, last reviewed 24 March 2021
    • Secondhand smoke and smokefree policies. Action on Smoking and health. ash.org.uk, accessed 5 October 2021
    • Smoking in vehicles. Department of health and social care. GOV.UK. www.gov.uk, last updated 11 August 2015
    • Seo AD, Kim DC, Yu HJ, et al. Accidental ingestion of E-cigarette liquid nicotine in a 15-month-old child: an infant mortality case of nicotine intoxication. Korean J Pediatr 2016; 59(12):490–3. doi:10.3345/kjp.2016.59.12.490
    • Use of electronic cigarettes before, during and after pregnancy. Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group. smokefreeaction.org.uk, published 2019
    • Does vaping cause popcorn lung? Cancer Research UK. www.cancerresearchuk.org, last reviewed December 2019
    • Evidence review of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products 2018. Public Health England. www.gov.uk, published 2018
    • Clearing up some myths around e-cigarettes. UK Health Security Agency. ukhsa.blog.gov.uk, 20 February 2018

Did you find our advice helpful?

We’d love to hear what you think. Our short survey takes just a few minutes to complete and helps us to keep improving our healthy lifestyle articles.

ajax-loader