Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are battery-operated devices designed to deliver a liquid containing highly addictive nicotine, flavoring, and other chemicals by heating it into an aerosol that is inhaled.
E-cigarette manufacturers are not required to disclose what chemicals are in their products, where they come from, how they are made, or the potential health risks they pose. E-cigarettes go by many names, such as vapes, vape pens, mods, cloud pens, vaporizers, and e-hookahs. They come in many shapes and sizes. Some can only be used once (disposable), while others can be refilled with the liquid (called e-liquid or e-juice). Some look like a regular cigarette or a colorful pen. Others have a tank that can hold large amounts of e-liquid.
Though there are many unknowns about e-cigarettes, and a lot of misinformation, health researchers and experts do know that e-cigarettes are not safe or harmless.
E-cigarettes contain harmful chemicals. Some of the same toxic chemicals found in regular cigarettes, such as nicotine, formaldehyde, and lead, are also found in e-cigarettes. While these toxic chemicals may be at lower levels compared to regular cigarettes, they remain harmful and can cause cancer, birth defects, or other health problems.2
E-cigarettes typically contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. The nicotine levels vary widely among products
Many smokers try e-cigarettes because they think they’re a safer alternative, or that they will help them quit or cut down. However, studies show that e-cigarettes do not help people quit smoking cigarettes.3 4 Instead, many people end up using both products, which keeps them at high risk for developing chronic diseases.5 6
The “Just Water Vapor” Myth
Contrary to popular belief, e-cigarette users don’t inhale or exhale water vapor. E-cigarettes produce an aerosol that pollutes the air. The aerosol is a mixture of nicotine, tiny particles of metals, and some of the same harmful toxic chemicals found in secondhand smoke.7 8
A New Way to Addict – and Poison – Kids
With the multitude of flavors, colorful packaging, tech appeal, and advertising, e-cigarettes are very appealing to kids and teens. E-cigarettes and e-liquids come in a wide variety of candy and fruit flavors, such as cherry crush, cotton candy, and chocolate mint. They are often placed next to candy displays in stores and on lower shelves that are easier for children the access. Free samples of e-cigarettes are also being given away at community events.
E- liquids are poisonous if swallowed. Small children or pets can become seriously ill or die if they swallow e-liquid. It’s also harmful if e-liquids get on skin or in eyes. The small e-cigarette batteries are also poisonous if swallowed.9 10
According to the California Poison Control System, the number of calls involving e-cigarettes jumped from 19 in 2012 to 243 in 2014, an increase of 1,200%. Over 60% of those e-cigarette calls were related to nicotine poisoning in children five and under.11
Teens who vape are 3x more likely to smoke traditional cigarettes 1 year later.16
No Advertising Regulations
There are currently no restrictions on how e-cigarettes can be advertised, leading to millions of dollars being spent on advertising on TV, radio, magazines, and online, including heavy promotion on social media.12 13 The ads make e-cigarettes look cool, sexy, and harmless. Some use celebrities and cartoon characters. These are some of the same marketing tactics tobacco companies used years ago,14 and have been banned for regular tobacco products.
While there are hundreds of e-cigarette companies, the three big tobacco companies recently jumped into the e-cigarette business. As of July 2014, each major tobacco company now owns and markets its own e-cigarette brand.
Bottom line: E-cigarettes are the latest way to get youth and young people addicted. It also stands to make “smoking” acceptable again in today’s culture.
Protect yourself and loved ones:
- Call 1-800-NO-BUTTS for free tips to break your addiction to nicotine.
- Call poison control (1-800-222-1222) if you suspect a child has ingested an e-cigarette product.
- Ask others not to use e-cigarettes around you.
- Ask your employer to create a policy prohibiting e-cigarette use in your workplace.
- Don’t allow e-cigarettes to be used in your home or car.