Electronic cigarettes

e cigarettes imageTurkey, Wales, Normandy and parts of Canada have recently banned the use of electronic cigarettes indoors, and the EU is considering following their example. Campaigners in support of an EU-wide ban point out that nicotine from e-cigarettes may contribute to heart disease and cancers, as well as damaging the brains of developing foetuses. In this activity students decide whether they support a ban. They apply their knowledge of particle theory to decide whether exhaled nicotine can reach non-vapers nearby, and then learn to judge risks to decide whether the benefits of a ban on indoor vaping outweigh the risks.


This material is called a Sequence, as it is designed to last two lessons. It explicitly teaches an important Working Scientifically skill, as well as developing science knowledge.  To download a Sequence, you need to upgrade your registration to Advanced User. It’s free, fast and will give you several other benefits. Answer the questions and upgrade here. 

Science objective

Particles: draw before and after diagrams of particles to explain observations (KS3 Science Syllabus)

Designed for the KS3 Science Syllabus

Enquiry objective

Estimate risks: weigh up the benefits and risks of an application of science to make a decision (KS3 Science Syllabus)

Try the activity

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Electronic cigarettes - Lesson 1

Size: 6.13 MB

Electronic cigarettes - Lesson 2

Size: 9.65 MB

Electronic cigarettes (Teachers guide)

Size: 51.58 KB

Running the activity

Lesson 1

Engage Get students interested in the issue of a possible ban on smoking electronic cigarettes indoors in public places
Review Students review their understanding of using particles to explain phenomena
Consider Students draw diagrams to show the arrangement and behaviour of particles involved in vaping, and decide whether exhaled nicotine can get to people nearby

Lesson 2

Engage Review the dilemma about whether to support an EU ban on indoor vaping in public places
Play Students play a game to learn how to judge risk
Decide Groups judge risk to decide whether or not they support a ban on indoor vaping in public places, and share their views in class discussion. They then complete a written task to explain their decision

For detailed running notes, download the teachers guide.


Article about e-cigarettes

This article from the BBC contains links to many other relevant web pages

Article on the health impacts of e-cigarettes

From Action on Smoking and Health, suitable for higher attaining students

Detailed report on the safety of e-cigarettes

From the British Medical Journal, suitable for teacher background



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  • laladee says:


    very relevant to our teaching group!

  • jsewell says:

    E cigs/ diffusion

    Very useful with news reports from youtube

  • vickyp75 says:

    E-cigarettes Task

    I used this task with my class after the subject of e-cigarettes came up during a lesson about healthy choices (Year 9). They were really interested in the subject generally – but the pupils really wanted to know how the risks of e-cigarettes compare with normal cigarettes – it preoccupied them and I think distracted them from the question being tackled. Whether they should be banned in public places didn’t seem as important to them – and a debate raged about this (unfortunately not the aim of the task)! There seemed to be a conception among some pupils that e-cigarettes are as dangerous for health as normal cigarettes.

    They did enjoy the quiz and definitely applying the risk vs benefit formula to the task was great. The particles part of the task wasn’t that well carried out.

  • chastine says:

    Electronic Cigarettes

    This material is very useful.

  • judepeel says:

    Doesn’t relate to the comparative risk of smoking

    I’ve got a few students who continue to smoke and won’t use E-cigs because they perceive the risks to be greater than cigarettes. I was hoping this would compare with smoking risks, I’m in the unusual position of teaching level 1 students 16+, so this might not be the same concerns as ps3 teachers at secondaries.

    I’ll say it again: E-cigarettes are still far safer than smoking


    • judepeel says:


      My students did engage with the material (easier said than done at times with this group) it was well presented and tackled the idea of risk. It stimulated quite a lot of conversation about relative risks.

    • Gemma Young says:

      Thanks for your comment, this is certainly food for thought. We wrote the activity with younger students (11-14) in mind who (hopefully) are not in the same position as your older students and don’t already smoke. Therefore we wanted to show that smoking e-cigarettes is still a health risk compared to not smoking at all. We felt this was an important issue worth addressing as young people may decide to start smoking e-cigarettes as they are under the impression that they are not harmful. I’m glad that your class enjoyed the lesson and that it still has value for older students.
      Gemma (from the writing team)

      • judepeel says:

        Relative risks vs smoking

        I thought I would comment again as I went on holiday with my 19 year old niece who unfortunately smokes. I suggested an e-cigarette but she says that they are as dangerous as smoking so won’t try them. She was already smoking at 13, the target age for this piece. I don’t think I’m going to use this again as I am concerned that the risk of them smoking is greater than the risk of e-cigarettes. I repeat though it was a good activity for judging relative risk of e-cig just not compared to smoking

  • mcqscience says:

    E cigarettes – To use or not to use

    My students have enjoyed this activity over 2 lessons. They have combined this with PSHE lessons to make a huge impact on their making decisions skills. Thank you for this thought provoking activity.

  • pamela says:

    E cigarettes

    Some of the images especially photos of models look unnatural and dated – they therefore distract the pupils eg photos of people with dialogue balloons. Maybe just simple graphics along the lines of emoji faces?
    Otherwise superb link of particle theory to a current context. Also can have all sorts of interesting discussions of ethics of the marketplace when iffy products like this are released.

  • emackenzie says:


    Very good, let’s get them educated before we find out the long term consequences.

  • martindg says:

    Interesting activity

    I used this with a year 8 group who did find it quite challenging but were definitely engaged. Many had older friends or relatives who use e-cigarettes so found it particularly interesting. The factors that need to be considered when weighing up risks and benefits were very useful and we can apply these ideas later when they do GCSE.

  • adelita says:


    It’s an interesting subject and very useful for our health. The students will be thrilled to do this experiment!

  • walshee says:

    e cigarettes

    this lesson came along at just the right time students are starting to use them and believe they are completely harmless. the lesson really hooked them and we had a lively discussion. And got to link it to matter!

  • Judith S says:

    Great materials for developing understanding

    These are really fabulous materials, so much better than anything else I have found in my extensive searches for resources on the internet. They really get to the heart of developing pupils understanding. I like them because they engage the pupils with something relevant to their own lives and yet the contexts aren’t trivial, they actually use science to solve problems in a real life situation which means the pupils see the point. Risk is such a difficult topic to explain and get pupils to understand without making them totally bored and switching off and by making a game out of it, they really get it. Thanks!!

    • Philippa says:

      Thank you!

      Thanks, Judith, for taking the trouble to comment. We’re delighted that the students were engaged and that they were able to develop their understanding! Philippa, from the writing team.

  • mrsevans says:


    good for science and also lifeskills

  • cerirhys says:


    Interesting and current topic. The student thoroughly enjoyed the discussion part of this task.

    • Philippa says:


      Really pleased the students enjoyed the discussion. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Hope you enjoy some of the other activities! Philippa, from the writing team