Electronic Cigarettes: No Smoke Does Not Mean No Risk

What are electronic cigarettes?
Electronic cigarettes, commonly known as e-cigarettes, are battery-operated devices that look like regular cigarettes.  E-cigarettes contain cartridges that are typically filled with nicotine, flavor, and other chemicals.  They turn nicotine and other chemicals into a vapor that the user breathes in.  E-cigarettes are not lit, and usually do not contain tobacco.  E-cigarettes produce vapor rather than smoke.

Are e-cigarettes safe?
E-cigarettes have NOT been shown to be safe.  E-cigarettes are designed to deliver nicotine, a highly addictive drug, to the respiratory system.  Studies have found that the levels of nicotine in e-cigarettes vary widely.  In high doses, nicotine can cause poisoning and even death.

E-cigarettes may also contain other toxic ingredients.  When the FDA analyzed the ingredients in cartridges from two leading e-cigarette brands, it found diethylene glycol, a chemical found in antifreeze that is toxic to humans, in one sample, and chemicals that are known to cause cancer in several other samples. 

E-cigarettes have not been tested for safety or submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval.  The bottom line is that we still do not know what is in e-cigarettes or what health effects they may cause.

The FDA has stated that it “is concerned about the safety of these products and how they are marketed to the public.”  In fact, the FDA is trying to prevent e-cigarettes from being imported into the United States.  However, companies that market e-cigarettes have brought a legal challenge to block this action (Sottera, Inc., et al v. FDA, et al).

Do e-cigarettes help smokers quit?
There is no evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers quit.  Peer-reviewed scientific studies have not established e-cigarettes to be a safe or effective smoking cessation aid, and the FDA has not approved e-cigarettes for this purpose.

How do e-cigarettes impact youth?
Youth could be attracted to e-cigarettes by their novel appearance and the fact that they come in flavors such as chocolate, strawberry, and mint.  E-cigarettes are commonly sold in shopping mall kiosks and through the Internet, settings where they may be visible and accessible to youth.  These products are not subject to age restrictions and do not carry health warnings.  Young people who start using e-cigarettes could become addicted to nicotine and then go on to use regular cigarettes and other tobacco products.

How do e-cigarettes impact smoking in public places?
E-cigarettes look like real cigarettes, and produce a vapor that looks like cigarette smoke.  Use of these products in public places such as malls, restaurants, and airplanes could make it look like people are smoking regular cigarettes.  This could cause confusion, make it hard to enforce smoke-free policies, and lead to people starting to smoke again in locations that have smoke-free policies.  In addition, we do not know how breathing vapor from e-cigarettes could affect persons who are in the vicinity of e-cigarette users.

Where can smokers turn for help in quitting?
E-cigarettes have NOT been shown to be effective in helping smokers quit.  In contrast, a number of treatments HAVE been shown to help smokers quit.  These include individual, group, and telephone counseling and seven FDA-approved cessation medications.  Using a combination of counseling and medication can more than double a smoker’s chances of quitting successfully.  For free help quitting smoking, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit www.smokefree.gov.

Information provided by CDC/OSH

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