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E-cigarettes – What you should know

Published in Tobacco Treatment Author: Danessa Sandmann, MPH, Program Specialist

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are rapidly gaining popularity throughout the world. E-cigarettes are a novel, non-combustible way to use nicotine. The devices come in several forms, but operate in the same way. A battery powers an atomizer that heats a nicotine solution and produces a vapor that is inhaled.

Are they safe?

With thousands of different e-cigarettes currently on the market, conclusive research is difficult to obtain as there is no regulatory oversight over the manufacture of these products. Last year, the FDA proposed regulations that would require e-cigarettes to meet safety standards and manufacturers to report ingredients in e-juice, but there is no definitive timeline when the requirements may take effect.

The vapor inhaled and exhaled from an e-cigarette is not “just water vapor” — contrary to claims made by e-cigarette advocates. The vapor has been shown to contain carcinogens, nicotine, heavy metals, fine particulate matter and tobacco specific nitrosamines — many of the same ingredients found in secondhand smoke — albeit at lower levels.

There is limited knowledge regarding the long-term effects of e-cigarette use, but the main ingredient of most e-cigarette solutions, propylene glycol, is a known respiratory irritant and can cause symptoms in asthmatics when inhaled.

Can they help with smoking cessation?

It is important to note that e-cigarettes have already been deemed by federal court to be a tobacco product, not a pharmacological aid. Therefore, e-cigarettes are not an FDA-approved smoking cessation product. In fact, studies assessing the efficacy of e-cigarettes as cessation devices have found that e-cigarette users may be less likely to quit than those that have not used e-cigarettes.

Youth access and appeal also are alarming concerns as e-cigarettes gain popularity. The Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey found that nearly 30 percent of Minnesota high school students have tried an e-cigarette. E-cigarettes have the potential to introduce an entire generation to nicotine addiction with their candy flavors and zebra print designs. There is much to learn about the possible effects of e-cigarette use — especially in the long-term.

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