The term “electronic cigarette” refers to a battery-powered device that heats a tank or cartridge of liquid usually containing nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals, but not the cancer-causing tar found in tobacco cigarettes.
Users inhale and exhale the vapor. The devices come in numerous shapes, including ones that look like pens, flash drives and hookahs. Many consumers are confused about the health implications of e-cigarettes.
Q: Are they safer than traditional cigarettes?
Yes. But that does not mean they are safe.
E-cigarettes contain far fewer dangerous chemicals than those released in burning tobacco.
Tobacco cigarettes typically contain 7,000 chemicals, including nearly 70 known to be carcinogenic. E-cigarettes also don’t release tar, the tobacco residue that damages lungs but also contributes to the flavor of tobacco products.
The research on e-cigarettes is young because the products have only been around a little over a decade. Exacerbated by the voltage of a given device, certain e-cigarette flavors can irritate the airways, researchers say: benzaldehyde (added to cherry flavored liquids), cinnamaldehyde (gives cinnamon flavor), and diacetyl (a buttery flavor that can cause lung tissue damage called “popcorn lung.”)
Q: Can they really help smokers quit?
It’s unclear. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved the marketing of e-cigarettes as smoking cessation aids. Observational studies of their effectiveness reveal mixed results
A 2018 study concluded that e-cigarettes did not help smokers quit at rates faster than smokers who did not use them. But this summer, a British Parliament committee resoundingly endorsed them, even going so far as to suggest that e-cigarettes be made available by prescription.
Q: Does nicotine have risks?
Nicotine is not known to cause cancer. It is a stimulant and a sedative, helping to release dopamine in the brain’s pleasure centers.
Some research suggests it can improve memory and concentration — although long-term smoking has been associated with cognitive decline. Inhaled nicotine can increase heart rate and blood pressure. The major cause for alarm is that nicotine is highly addictive. It is the chemical in tobacco and e-cigarettes that binds the user.
Q: What are the concerns about teenagers and e-cigarettes?
The human brain develops into the mid-20s. Researchers worry that adolescents who vape will be most affected by nicotine addiction, which they can develop with less exposure than adults require.
Teens are also using vapes to inhale marijuana.