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THE MYTH: Nicotine causes cancer and is the main source of smoking related disease


  • Nicotine is not considered carcinogenic, despite what many people believe. Nicotine is not classified as a carcinogen in EU law. Regulations that have existed in Europe since 2006 and are overseen by the European Chemicals Agency, classify substances according to their carcinogenicity. Nicotine is not classified as such, nor has such a classification ever been proposed by anyone.
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the WHO, is clear on its website that nicotine does not cause cancer, saying that the effect of nicotine

“is to make tobacco addictive rather than to cause cancer directly. People who are addicted are more likely to continue to expose themselves to the carcinogens in smoked or smokeless tobacco”.

  • Research using well established methods to compare the carcinogenicity of smoking and vaping has established that vaping product users are “typically exposed to 0.4% of the lifetime cancer risk of smokers”. Cancer Research UK advises smokers that vaping products “usually contain nicotine, which is addictive but doesn’t cause cancer”. Most of the carcinogens in cigarette smoke are the result of combustion; vaping products do not combust.

estimated cancer risk

  • Nicotine in its purest form is acutely toxic, although its toxicity has been over-estimated. Research suggesting that a single drop of nicotine can be fatal is based on self-experiments conducted in the mid 19th century. More recent analysis shows that a fatal dose of nicotine for a human is around 0.5 – 1g; the highest concentration vaping products in Europe contain a fraction of this amount and Is packaged in child-resistant containers.



  • Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures. Link
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer, European Code Against Cancer. Link
  • Cancer research UK, Are e-cigarettes harmful? Link
  • Stephens et al (2018), Comparing the cancer potencies of emissions from vapourised nicotine products including e-cigarettes with those of tobacco smoke Link
  • Mayer (2014), How much nicotine kills a human? Tracing back the generally accepted lethal dose to dubious self-experiments in the nineteenth century. Link