Cigarette smoking has fallen to its lowest point in recorded history, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But there’s a new problem at hand: electronic cigarettes.
These battery-powered devices were introduced to the market to help smokers switch from traditional cigarettes. They work by heating a liquid into an aerosol that a user inhales.
Because e-cigarettes don’t burn tobacco, most experts agree that they’re likely to cause fewer harmful effects than traditional cigarettes. But some e-cigarettes may contain harmful substances, such as carcinogens; toxic chemicals; and THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
E-cigarettes containing nicotine aren’t considered safe for children, young adults or pregnant women. Nicotine can harm brain development in children and adults into their early 20s, and it is toxic to developing fetuses. In youth and adult nonsmokers, e-cigarette use also poses the risk of a nicotine addiction, which could lead to long-term use of e-cigarettes — the effects of which aren’t known — or the use of traditional cigarettes.
How do they work?
Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices that heat a liquid solution (usually but not always containing nicotine), turning it into a vapor that can be inhaled. They are often called e-cigarettes, e-vaporizers or electronic nicotine delivery systems. Using e-cigarettes is often referred to as vaping.
Some e-cigarettes resemble traditional cigarettes, cigars or pipes. Others look like pens or flash drives or have completely different designs. E-cigarettes can be disposable or refillable. Most use a cartridge or have a reservoir to hold the liquid, also called e-liquid or e-juice. The liquid typically contains nicotine, flavorings, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin.
The strength of an e-cigarette is measured by the amount of nicotine in milligrams per milliliter of the e-liquid. However, studies have raised concerns that product labels don’t always provide accurate information about nicotine content.
Will e-cigarettes help me quit smoking?
E-cigarettes aren’t an FDA-approved quit aid.
Studies to test whether e-cigarettes can help people stop using tobacco have had inconsistent results. Limited research suggests that using only e-cigarettes containing nicotine to quit smoking can be effective short term compared with using medicinal nicotine replacements. But there isn’t enough evidence comparing the safety and effectiveness of using e-cigarettes to quit smoking and established evidence-based treatments. E-cigarettes might be appropriate only in those unwilling to try evidence-based smoking cessation therapies or haven’t had success with such therapies.
If you use e-cigarettes to quit smoking, remember that your goal is to completely quit using all tobacco products. Also, the dual use of e-cigarettes containing nicotine and traditional cigarettes is strongly discouraged.
If you’re looking for help to stop smoking, there are several Food and Drug Administration-approved medications that have been shown to be safe and effective for this purpose. A combination of medication and counseling has been shown to work best.