What Are E-Cigarettes?
Electronic cigarettes (also called e-cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems) are smokeless, battery operated devices designed to deliver nicotine with flavorings or other chemicals to the lungs of users without burning tobacco (the usual source of nicotine). They are typically manufactured to resemble regular tobacco cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or even everyday items like pens or USB memory sticks. While e-cigarettes are often promoted as safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes, little is actually known yet about the public health implications of using these devices.
How Do e-Cigarettes Work?
Most e-cigarettes consist of three different components, including:
- A cartridge, which holds a liquid solution containing varying amounts of nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals
- A heating device (vaporizer)
- A rechargeable battery
In most e-cigarette, puffing activates the battery-powered heating device, which vaporizes the liquid in the cartridge. The resulting aerosol or vapor is then inhaled (called "vaping").
Are e-Cigarettes Safer than Conventional Cigarettes?
Unfortunately, this question is difficult to answer because insufficient information is available on these new products. Although they do not produce tobacco smoke, e-cigarettes still contain nicotine and other potentially harmful chemicals. Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, and recent research suggests nicotine exposure may also prime the brain to become addicted to other substances. Also, testing of some e-cigarette products found the vapor to contain known carcinogens and toxic chemicals (such as diethylene glycol and nitrosamines), as well as potentially toxic metal nanoparticles from the vaporizing mechanism. The health consequences of repeated exposure to these chemicals are not yet clear. Another worry is the refillable cartridges used by some e-cigarettes. Users may expose themselves to potentially toxic levels of nicotine when refilling them. Cartridges could also be filled with substances other than nicotine, thus possibly serving as a new and potentially dangerous way to deliver other drugs. Moreover, a recent study shows that "the use of e-cigarettes does not discourage, and may encourage, conventional cigarette use among U.S. adolescents and teens."
Can e-Cigarettes Help a Person Quit Smoking?
At this point it is unclear whether e-cigarettes may be effective as smoking-cessation aids. There is also the possibility that they could perpetuate the nicotine addiction and thus interfere with quitting.
Above information directly from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and DrugFree.org