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Types of vapes

Also known as e-cigarettes, vaporisers or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), nicotine vapes are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine by heating a solution containing nicotine, flavourings and other additives. They consist of a mouthpiece, battery and cartridge or tank containing the nicotine solution.

When a user sucks on the e-cigarette, a sensor activates a heating element (atomiser) which heats the liquid in the cartridge or tank so that it evaporates. The vapour delivers the nicotine to the user.

There are a variety of vapes on the market including:

  • vape bars shaped like a highlighter pen (usually disposable but sometimes rechargeable and refillable with e-liquid capsules)
  • compact pod devices shaped like a flash drive or pebble (either disposable, or rechargeable and refillable with e-liquid capsules)
  • vape pens with a tank you fill with your choice of e-liquid, and a replaceable coil and rechargeable battery
  • ‘cigalikes’ designed to look like a cigarette (either disposable, or rechargeable and refillable with e-liquid capsules)
  • customisable devices with variable power (these are more difficult to use and need more maintenance)

Nicotine vapes have similar characteristics to both cigarettes and Nicotine replacement (NRT) products such as nicotine gum and lozenges.

Like tobacco cigarettes, they deliver nicotine via inhalation: they are designed to mimic the experience of smoking.

Like NRT products, they deliver nicotine but without the tar and toxic chemicals that tobacco smokers inhale. However, unlike NRT products, they are not medicines, or at least none of the products currently on the market in the UK have been licensed as medicines. Instead, they are regulated as consumer products under the UK Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016.

Nicotine vapes are recognised to be far safer than tobacco products, but they have not been tested for safety as rigorously as NRT products.

Although nicotine vapes are more like NRT in their effects and toxicity, they look more like cigarettes in their everyday use. The action of vaping is, however, fundamentally different to that of smoking a cigarette. When a person smokes a conventional cigarette, smoke from the burning tobacco is inhaled into the lungs and then exhaled. Smoke is also emitted from the burning tip of the cigarette, releasing toxins into the air: this is the main source of the toxic second-hand smoke breathed by bystanders.

In contrast, there is no combustion involved in vaping. Vapour is released when the user sucks on the e-cigarette, and the only vapour emitted into the air is that which the user exhales.

About two thirds of people who use a vape along with expert support successfully quit smoking.

Source: Vaping to quit smoking – Better Health – NHS (

Useful links:

ASH Factsheet: Use of nicotine vapes among adults in Great Britain: 2021




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