Harm Reduction Health

Clearing the air: what’s in your vape bar?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll have seen plumes of fruity vapour emanating from brightly coloured sticks in nightclub smoking areas, parks, and festival sites. Cigarette smoking is, thankfully, on the decline across the UK. Vaping, which is substantially less harmful than smoking cigarettes, is on the up – but it isn’t risk free and there hasn’t been much research in to the long-term effects.

So, what’s actually in your vape? Here’s a judgement-free list of the stuff that makes up your bar.


A whole Elf or Geek bar usually contains two percent (20mg) nicotine: the maximum legally allowed in a vape bar in the UK. That’s around 48 cigarettes worth; but it’s important to note that vaping exposes users to fewer toxins than cigarette smoking, and vapes don’t produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful substances in tobacco smoke.

Nicotine can, however, reduce your saliva flow, causing dry mouth, gum disease and bad breath. It’s also super addictive. Withdrawal symptoms can include cravings, irritability, anxiety, trouble concentrating, and headaches. Find out more about nicotine.

Watermelon Elf bars were recently withdrawn from sale in the UK after some were found to exceed maximum nicotine levels.

Vegetable glycerin or propylene glycerin

These are the most common base fluids found in vape bars. They’re also used in toothpaste, cough syrup and margarine. When vaporised, they carry the nicotine into your body. There have been very few studies into the effects of inhaling vegetable glycerin or propylene glycerin. One study has linked the inhalation of vegetable glycerin to inflammation of the lungs but more research is required to fully understand the affects.


There’s a whole host of Elf and Geek bar flavours, from harsher, more minty tones to sweet strawberry and watermelon. The taste of vapes comes from food-grade flavourings added to the liquid. Again, there hasn’t been much research into the effect of the different additives used, and more research is required to fully understand the affects, but some additives, like diacetyl, have been linked to lung disease at high levels.

Difficult-to-recycle plastic

The brightly coloured casing of your Elf or Geek bar is made of plastic. As the bars also contain a built-in battery, they can’t be disposed of with your usual household recycling, and so thousands end up in landfill. If you want to recycle your vape bars, you can take them to your local battery recycling point. There are battery recycling points at most supermarkets, including the Sainsbury’s in Fallowfield, the Asda in Hulme and the Lidl opposite Whitworth Park.

Want to give up vaping?

Dazed have some great tips if you want to give up – including advice from Manchester-based Liam.

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