E-Cigarettes – Serious Health Consequences
Electronic cigarettes (also called e-cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems) are battery-operated devices designed to deliver nicotine with flavorings and other chemicals to users in vapor instead of smoke. They can be manufactured to resemble traditional tobacco cigarettes, cigars or pipes, or even everyday items like pens or USB memory sticks; newer devices, such as those with fillable tanks, may look different. More than 250 different e-cigarette brands are currently on the market.
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); and a power source (usually a battery). In many e-cigarettes, puffing activates the battery-powered heating device, which vaporizes the liquid in the cartridge. The resulting aerosol or vapor is then inhaled (called vaping).
E-cigarettes are designed to simulate the act of tobacco smoking by producing an appealingly flavored aerosol that looks and feels like tobacco smoke and delivers nicotine but with less of the toxic chemicals produced by burning tobacco leaves.
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 formaldehyde and acetaldehyde), as well as potentially toxic metal nanoparticles from the vaporizing mechanism. The health consequences of repeated exposure to these chemicals are not yet clear.
Some people believe e-cigarette products may help smokers lower nicotine cravings while they are trying to discontinue their tobacco use. However, at this point it is unclear whether e-cigarettes may be effective as smoking-cessation aids. There is also the possibility they could perpetuate the nicotine addiction and thus interfere with quitting.
Early evidence suggests that e-cigarette use may serve as an introductory product for youth who then go on to use other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death. A recent study showed that students who have used e-cigarettes by the time they start 9th grade are more likely than others to start smoking traditional cigarettes and other smokable tobacco products within the next year.
E-cigarettes are increasingly popular among teens. Some states have banned sale of e-cigarettes to minors, but teens have been ordering them online. Their easy availability (online or via mall kiosks), in addition to their wide array of cartridge flavors (such as coffee, mint, candy, and fruit flavors), have helped make them particularly appealing to this age group. In an effort to help protect the public from the dangers of tobacco use, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established a new rule for e-cigarettes and their liquid solutions. Because e-cigarettes contain nicotine derived from tobacco, they are now subject to government regulation as tobacco products, including the requirement that both in-store and online purchasers be at least 18 years of age.