Much is still unknown about electronic cigarettes, so other nicotine replacement (NRT) products that have been tested are recommended instead. However experts believe that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking.
E-cigarettes have been around for several years now and many smokers find them helpful when they are trying to quit.
There has not yet been enough research into how safe e-cigarettes are, so while we can say that they are less dangerous than smoking cigarettes, we can’t guarantee that they are safe.
E-cigarettes are not licensed and regulated as some other NRT products are. At the moment, the e-cigarettes on sale in the UK are regulated in a limited way. This will change in 2016 but at the moment you cannot be certain that what is written on the label is what is in the product.
Before thinking about e-cigarettes, you should consider nicotine replacement products (NRT) that have been tested and are safe to use in pregnancy. Your local stop smoking service will be able to tell you what’s available. If you do decide to choose e-cigarettes however, talk to the stop smoking team in your area for advice and support.
What are e-cigarettes?
Firstly, e-cigarettes are not actually cigarettes. You don't ‘smoke’ them and they don't contain tobacco. Some of them look like cigarettes, though, and for people who are trying to stop smoking, this can be part of their appeal.
E-cigarettes are also known as vapourisers, which is where the term 'vaping' comes from. They contain a liquid and, when the user sucks on them, this liquid heats up and creates vapour, which is breathed in.
In most, but not all, e-cigarettes, the liquid contains nicotine, which you take in with the vapour. There is also usually some kind of flavouring. Some e-cigarettes are disposable and others are refillable.
Are e-cigarettes less harmful than normal cigarettes?
Yes. E-cigarettes don't burn tobacco, so they don't produce many of the harmful toxins that cigarettes do. E-cigarettes don't produce carbon monoxide either, which can cause serious harm to an unborn baby. On the available evidence, they are much safer than smoking tobacco.
However, e-cigarettes are not completely harmless – the vapour they produce contains toxins, although in much lower levels than in cigarettes. Experts don't yet know enough about the effects of these when inhaled as vapour to say for sure how safe or unsafe they are for your baby.
As e-cigarettes are not known to be safe, and there has not yet been enough research into the possible effects of using them, it is better to avoid them during your pregnancy if possible by using other approved NRT products instead. These products have been tested and are considered to be safe in pregnancy.
Can second-hand vapour from e-cigarettes affect my baby?
Because e-cigarettes don't produce smoke, if your partner, friends or family members use them, you won't be affected in the same way as you would by second-hand smoke from cigarettes. If someone near you is using an e-cigarette you may come in contact with a small amount of nicotine in the vapour but experts believe that compared to cigarette smoke the health risk is likely to be extremely low.
Are e-cigarettes recommended as a way to quit smoking?
E-cigarettes are almost certainly much safer than smoking cigarettes. However, for now, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines recommend that if you use a product containing nicotine to help you quit smoking, it is best to use one that is licensed instead of e-cigarettes.
So, before considering e-cigarettes, think about using nicotine replacement products (NRT) that have been tested and are known to be safe to use during pregnancy. Your local stop smoking service will be able to talk you through the options.
If you get support your chance of quitting completely is much higher than if you try and do it alone. Local stop smoking services offer free specialist support. They are there to help you, not judge you. If you do decide to use e-cigarettes to quit, you should still go to your local stop smoking services team for advice and support. Their help will give you a better chance of quitting for good.
- Public Health England report: Electronic cigarettes, May 2014, 2.3: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/311887/Ecigarettes_report.pdf p7
- NHS Choices (2013) News report: E-cigarettes and vaping http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/06june/pages/e-cigarettes-and-vaping.aspx
- Cooper et al (2014), Effect of nicotine patches in pregnancy on infant and maternal outcomes at 2 years: follow-up from the randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled SNAP trial, The Lancet Respiratory Medicine http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(14)70157-2/fulltext?_eventId=login
- Coleman at al 2012, A Randomized Trial of Nicotine-Replacement Therapy Patches in Pregnancy N Engl J Med 2012;366:80818 http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1109582
- Farsalinos KE, Polosa R. Safety evaluation and risk assessment of electronic cigarettes as tobacco cigarette substitutes: a systematic review. Ther Adv Drug Saf. 2014 Apr;5(2):67–86.
- Public Health England report: Electronic cigarettes, May 2014, 2.3: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/311887/Ecigarettes_report.pdf
ℹLast reviewed on April 1st, 2015. Next review date April 1st, 2018.