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Vaping and E-Cigarettes

Close up image of three vape/e-cigarettes on a white background.

More and more people are lighting up with electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). Also called vaping or Juuling, using e-cigarettes provides nicotine without all the smoke. But are they safer? This Q&A explains what’s known about e-cigarettes.

What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are also known as electronic nicotine delivery systems. These devices are often made to look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. They have 3 parts: a battery, a heating device, and a cartridge or tank. The part that heats up is called a vaporizer.

To use an e-cigarette, a person inserts a cartridge or fills the tank with a liquid solution. This liquid contains nicotine. It may also contain other chemicals and flavorings. When the e-cigarette is puffed, the vaporizer heats up. It turns the nicotine-containing liquid in the tank or cartridge into an aerosol. Users then breathe in this vapor. Doing this is called vaping.

Recently, a new brand called Juul has caught the market by storm. Juul has quickly become the leading seller of e-cigarettes. This device is very small and discreet. It looks like a slim USB drive, not a cigarette. And its battery can be charged in a computer through the USB port. Juuls are so popular that teens now call using this device "Juuling." Juul products also deliver much more nicotine than any competitor. One of their "pods" has about the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes.

Who is using e-cigarettes?

More and more people are puffing on e-cigarettes. Their use has doubled since they became available in 2007. Tobacco smokers are heavy users. So are teens, particularly middle school and high school students. In fact, e-cigarettes have become their most popular form of tobacco product. Flavorings—such as coffee, mint, and fruit flavors—may tempt younger users to try these products. According to the FDA, from 2011 to 2015, e-cigarette use rose from 1.5% to 16.0% among high school students and from 0.6% to 5.3% among middle school students. Juuling has exploded in popularity in the last 2 years to become a national epidemic.

Can e-cigarettes help smokers quit?

Some people say that e-cigarettes may help smokers kick the habit. Their design and the way they deliver nicotine may make quitting easier. But ongoing research is mixed on how well they work as a stop-smoking aid. Some studies suggest they may help. Others show that smokers may be using both regular and e-cigarettes. They may choose an e-cigarette in places where other smoking products are banned.

Are they safer than traditional cigarettes?

E-cigarettes may seem safer than other forms of smoking. Users don’t inhale burning tobacco and its many toxic byproducts. These include tar and other carcinogens. But they may still be exposed to other harmful substances. The inhaled vapor may contain chemicals such as formaldehyde. Flavorings may also hide possible toxins. It’s also unclear if the vapor puffed into the air puts nonsmokers at risk for health problems.

More research is needed to see if e-cigarettes are harmful. But it's clear that users are still taking in nicotine, a very addictive substance. In the case of Juuling, users are taking in larger doses of nicotine. At high doses, nicotine can cause dizziness and vomiting. Users who refill their own cartridges are especially at risk for unsafe levels of the drug. Even more concerning, young children have been poisoned after coming in contact with the nicotine-containing liquid. Teens who use e-cigarettes may become addicted to nicotine, which can harm their developing brain. They may also start smoking regular cigarettes.

It's also possible for e-cigarettes to overheat and explode. This is mainly caused by overheating of the lithium batteries. This has caused serious skin burns.

Are there any laws against using e-cigarettes?

The FDA recently ruled to regulate e-cigarettes. They are considered a tobacco product. Makers of these devices have to follow certain rules on safety and advertising. They also can’t directly sell or market e-cigarettes in stores or online to minors. As of August 2018, e-cigarettes must have labels warning that nicotine is addictive. The FDA regulations now cover the manufacture, import, packaging, labeling, advertising, promotion, sale, and distribution of e-cigarettes. While these regulations cover e-cigarette parts, they don't cover e-cigarette accessories.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
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