Electronic Cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are devices operated by small batteries designed to deliver nicotine plus flavorings in a vapor instead of smoke. They typically are designed to resemble cigarettes or pipes, but may be made to look like writing pens or other everyday objects. Electronic cigarettes have gained popularity in the last decade, with more than 400 brands available.
Many brands of e-cigarettes have been marketed as a less toxic alternative to cancer-causing cigarettes and an effective aid to quitting smoking, according to a study of e-cigarette brands in Tobacco Control, a peer reviewed medical journal. Sales of e-cigarettes have soared, surpassing $2.5 billion in 2015. But more independent scientific research needs to be done on the health risks and safety of e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes have a cartridge containing nicotine and other liquids. A battery-powered heating coil converts the liquid solution of chemicals into a vapor that is then inhaled by the user.
The amount of nicotine in e-cigarettes varies by brand according to the FDA. Nicotine is highly addictive. The FDA found that some brands of e-cigarette cartridges marketed as nicotine free still contained trace amounts of nicotine.
The health risks of e-cigarettes have not been fully studied, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is funding research to try to find answers to questions about the risks of e-cigarettes.
Many people try vaping because they think inhaling vapor is less harmful than drawing smoke into their lungs and may help them cut down on the number of cigarettes they are smoking. However, inhaling the propylene glycol in e-cigarettes can affect the lungs.
A 2015 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that some brands of e-cigarettes release formaldehyde, a probable carcinogen, when heated by high voltage batteries.
Researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health analyzed 51 of the nearly 7,000 flavorings of e-cigarettes to check for diacetyl, a chemical linked to severe respiratory disease including a condition known as popcorn lung. Their research, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found the chemical in 39 of the 51 flavors tested. They called for urgent action to evaluate this potentially widespread exposure to the harmful chemical.
There is no research to date on the long-term effects of e-cigarettes on lung function and cardiovascular health.
Popcorn lung, or bronchiolitis obliterans, is a life-threatening form of non-reversible obstructive lung disease. Inflammation and scarring occur in the small airway branches of the lung, causing severe shortness of breath, wheezing and dry cough.
The disease was nicknamed popcorn lung because it was first observed among workers at a microwave popcorn factory in Missouri. People who work with flavorings that include diacetyl such as workers at bakeries, candy factories, and snack food factories are at risk of flavorings-related lung disease.
Very little research has been done to date on the association between e-cigarettes and diacetyl. Traditional cigarettes contain a number of toxins including diacetyl and are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
The Food and Drug Administration proposed in 2015 to regulate e-cigarettes, water-pipe tobacco, cigars, pipe tobacco and nicotine gels.
The FDA said it wanted to require health warning labels on e-cigarettes, ban manufacturers from making claims about health benefits of the products without scientific evidence, disclose the ingredients in e-cigarettes and restrict the sales of e-cigarettes to minors.
The regulations have not been finalized.
Yes. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the use of e-cigarettes among high school and middle school students tripled from 2013 to 2014. The study said that the popularity of e-cigarettes had now surpassed that of traditional cigarettes among high school students, with 13.4 percent of high school students reportedly using e-cigarettes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Youth Tobacco Survey, marketing for e-cigarettes now reaches 70 percent of high school and middle school students. Advertising for e-cigarettes currently does not have the same restrictions as traditional cigarettes.
The FDA has expressed concern that flavored e-cigarettes might be a gateway product leading young people to develop an addiction to nicotine and turning them into smokers.