First introduced to the U.S. marketplace in 2007, electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, have exploded in popularity. While some smokers may turn to electronic cigarettes to help them quit smoking, they should be aware of the health risks.
Electronic Cigarettes Explained
In most models, electronic cigarettes feature a battery, a heating element, and an aerosol. They feature a body of plastic or metal in a variety of styles. Sometimes they’re shaped like a pen, while others look like a whole cigarette. The electronic cigarette uses battery power to heat the cigarette’s liquid stored in a cartridge; users inhale the aerosol into their lungs, an act often referred to as “vaping.” Due to the popularity of electronic cigarettes, it’s possible to buy cartridges in various flavors, often at supermarkets and drug stores. However, easy access to these devices may come at a cost.
Uses for Electronic Cigarettes
Electronic cigarettes often seem like an efficient way to stop smoking nicotine cigarettes. Users feel like they’re smoking a traditional cigarette but can reduce nicotine with cartridges. An electronic cigarette can be a way to transition away from smoking. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t recommend using it as a smoking aid.
Health Risks with Electronic Cigarettes
Traditional cigarettes feature a mixture of nicotine, tobacco, and other chemicals. Electronic cigarettes lack tobacco but may have the nicotine and chemicals of conventional cigarettes, so they’re still a health risk. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances for the human body, plus it comes with severe health risks, including heart disease and increased risk for heart attack. Nicotine isn’t the only cause for concern in electronic cigarettes, as some models may have formaldehyde, a carcinogen linked to cancer.
Repeatedly smoking or “vaping” electronic cigarettes increases the risk of severe illness, including lung disease, pneumonia, diabetes, and seizures. Additionally, nicotine may damage blood vessels, impair memory, disorientate the user, and affect the reproductive system.
Youth Use of Electronic Cigarettes
Electronic cigarettes are trendy among teens. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), they represent the most-used tobacco product among middle and high schoolers since 2014. Electronic cigarettes feature sweet flavors such as cotton candy, bubblegum, and chocolate, so they are often seen as a “gateway” into youth cigarette use.
In 2020, however, the FDA finalized a policy targeting flavored electronic cigarettes meant to target kids. The measure also increased the minimum purchase age for tobacco to 21. Retailers must verify the purchaser’s age and face strict penalties if they sell tobacco products to minors. Electronic cigarettes also carry warnings they contain nicotine, just like their tobacco counterparts. Finally, the FDA oversees electronic cigarettes alongside tobacco products and must approve every cigarette and cartridge before selling.
Electronic cigarettes may appear “safer” than traditional cigarettes and have use as a stop-smoking aid by adults. However, the rise of flavored electronic cigarettes targets youths, who overwhelmingly prefer them over traditional tobacco products. The FDA has acted to curb youth use of electronic cigarettes, but health risks for users remain. As electronic cigarettes only arrived in the U.S. in 2007, studies on their long-term use and effects on health are still needed.