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Smoking is a disaster for your health, but not – as many people think – because of Nicotine. In 2019 Public Health England published their research update on the use of e-cigarettes in the UK. One of the interesting things their research highlighted is that 4 out of 10 smokers (and ex-smokers) wrongly believe that Nicotine is to blame for most smoking-related cancers.1 Nicotine is addictive, but there is considerable evidence to support that it poses minimal risk to health when inhaled.7 But, Nicotine is highly toxic when swallowed, which accounts for the toxic stamp you should find on any UK e-liquid that contains 18mg/ml or more of Nicotine. Of course, addiction is a cause for concern but, in this instance, it should be clear that Nicotine is not the bad guy in the smoking story. The real hazards are found in the many thousands of toxins produced when cigarettes are burned. E-cigarette vapour does not contain tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke.2 While vaping is not risk free, it is a huge 95% less harmful than smoking.2

What is Nicotine?

Nicotine is an alkaloid found in the nightshade family of plants (Solanaceae) and, while it is found in other foods, it is predominantly found in tobacco.

How does Nicotine affect you?

Nicotine is a stimulant drug, but can produce effects of both stimulation and relaxation.4 It is highly addictive, and its effect is linked to its capacity to trigger the release of dopamine - a chemical in the brain that is associated with feelings of pleasure.2 As with any addiction, smokers experience cravings when trying to quit1, making it very difficult to ‘kick the habit.’ When you start down the road of quitting, your body goes into ‘withdrawal’ which essentially means that the 'reward' of the drug has been taken away and can lead to irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, increased appetite, insomnia and craving. All or any of which can lead to relapse.4 It's also important to note that vaping allows you to regulate the amount of Nicotine you inhale more accurately than traditional smoking. How a person metabolises Nicotine varies considerably between individuals so what is good for one person may be too much for another. Vaping allows you to take control of how much Nicotine you inhale.5

Is Nicotine safe?

Pure liquid Nicotine is classified as a toxin, but its toxicity depends very much on the method on ingestion/inhalation. When swallowed it is highly toxic, but when inhaled it is not harmful to long-term lung health.7

Nicotine and adolescents

Young people should avoid Nicotine in any form. While it isn’t a harmful substance, it affects the adolescent brain differently. Using Nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control.6 Best advice for adolescents is to avoid smoking or vaping all together. There is a reason why the age limit is 18+ in the UK.


Nicotine is addictive, but it isn’t a harmful substance when inhaled. When Nicotine is used as part of a Nicotine Replacement Treatment (NRT), or in less harmful delivery devices such as e-cigarettes, the smoker avoids roughly 4,000 other toxic substances that are inhaled via tobacco smoke.4 Regulated Nicotine-containing products are an effective way of reducing the amount people smoke or helping them to quit smoking without the hazards of cigarette smoking.4


  1. McNeill, A. et al. Evidence update. A report commissioned by Public Health England (2019).
  2. McNeill, A. et al. Evidence review of e- cigarettes and heated tobacco products 2018. A report commissioned by Public Health England (2018).
  3. ASH Fact Sheet. Nicotine and Addiction. August 2018. Available from:
  4. British Medical Journal. Nicotine and health 2014. Available from
  5. Gov.UK. Four in 10 smokers incorrectly think Nicotine causes cancer. March 2018. Available from
  6. Adriani W, Macri S, Pacifici R, Laviola G. Peculiar vulnerability to Nicotine oral self-administration in mice during early adolescence. Neuropsychopharmacology 2002;27(2):212–24.
  7. Long-term effects of inhaled Nicotine. Waldum HL (et al), study for Department of Medicine, University Hospital, Tronheim, Norway. (1996)
Joanne Emmerson FCIM Head of Marketing, Ibiza Club Joanne is a fellow of the Royal Chartered Institute of Marketing and has 30+ years marketing experience. She has worked all around the world, is published in 7 countries and teaches marketing communication theory at Post Graduate level both in the UK and USA. She has worked alongside many government bodies, health organisations and national charities.