Electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigarettes or e-cigs) are battery-operated devices that often are designed to look, feel, and taste like tobacco cigarettes. These devices, which may be marketed to young people and sold as a safer alternative to smoking, contain nicotine, flavors, and other substances that are turned into a vapor and are then inhaled.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that look like real cigarettes, have a light-emitting diode (LED) on the tip that lights up when you inhale, and even produce fake smoke in the form of water vapor. They also deliver nicotine via cartridges, but spare you the tar, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and other toxins found in tobacco smoke.

Some manufacturers of e-cigarettes tout their products as an effective form of nicotine replacement therapy. And, in theory, they could work, since the principle is the same. The e-cigarette's cartridges are available in progressively lower concentrations of nicotine (they come in high, medium, low and no-nicotine varieties), so you can wean yourself off nicotine over time just like with traditional nicotine replacement products. But there are several problems with e-cigs. (See Are Electronic Cigarettes Safe?)

Dangers of E-Cigarettes

In July 2009, several public health organizations, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), determined that e-cigarettes contain toxic chemicals and cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) and that health claims made by manufacturers of these devices are unproven.

In February 2013, the CDC reported that the use of e-cigarettes increased from about 10 percent of all adult smokers in 2010 to about 21 percent in 2010. It's estimated that in 2011, 1 in 5 adults who smoke cigarettes tried electronic cigarettes. According to the CDC, the impact of e-cigarettes on long-term health must be studied further.

According to the FDA, steps were taken in February 2014 to stop the sale and distribution of 4 tobacco products currently on the market in the United States (Sutra Bidis Red, Sutra Bidis Menthol, Sutra Bidis Red Cone, and Sutra Bidis Menthol Cone). This action marks the first time the Agency issued this order under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to regulate products that are not found to be substantially equal to other marketed tobacco products. The Act required companies to submit an application for these products to the FDA by March 2011.

E-Cigarettes & Young People

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in August 2014 that more than 263,000 middle and high school students who had never smoked cigarettes used e-cigarettes in 2013. This number is more than 3 times higher than in 2011, when about 79,000 young people who had never smoked used electronic cigarettes.

According to the CDC, e-cigarette use in middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014. Electronic cigarette use in high schoolers rose from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014. In middle schoolers, e-cigarette use increased from 1.1 percent in 2013 to 3.9 percent in 2014. The CDC reports that in 2014, approximately 2,450,000 middle and high school students in the United States used e-cigarettes.

Adolescents who use e-cigarettes are about twice as likely to smoke cigarettes when they get older as those who don't use electronic cigarettes. The CDC and FDA warn that the nicotine in electronic cigarettes is highly addictive and can have a harmful effect on brain development in young people.

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 22 Apr 2015

Last Modified: 24 Apr 2015