E-cigarettes (Electronic Cigarettes)

Danielle McFaill & Shana Madden,
Health Extension Agents Greenville County,
Clemson University

HTF 0118

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, e-cigs, e-hookah, vape pens, or vapes, have recently gained popularity over conventional cigarettes in the nicotine world. They can vary in size and appearance. Some may resemble traditional cigars/cigarettes, or even look like pens or USB sticks. However, the mechanisms of operation are similar, even though markets are flooded with more than 460 brands. They are battery-operated devices that people use to inhale an aerosol. The aerosol is created in the devices through small, heated coils that vaporize the “e-cig” solution, often containing varying amounts of nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals.

variety of e-cigarettes

E-cigarettes in varying sizes & appearance.
UTHealth, the University of Texas

Most common e-cigarettes have four different pieces. First, e-cigarettes contain a cartridge or reservoir, which is where the liquid “e-cig” solution is stored. The next piece is the heating element or atomizer. This is the part that is used to vaporize the solution. A power source is also required to operate and power the heating element. Often the power source is a battery. Lastly, a mouthpiece is needed for the user to inhale the vapor. In order to activated the device to heat and vaporize the liquid stored in the cartridge, the user can simply puff on the device and inhale the vapor.

E-cigarettes & Safety

While smoking a conventional cigarette is known to lead to and be a contributing factor to a myriad of illnesses and diseases, not much is known about long-term effects of e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes, like conventional cigarettes, contain nicotine, and nicotine is known to be a highly addictive substance. One of the many appeals to consumers for e-cigarette usage is that consumers can receive the same effects of enjoyment and satisfaction without exposing themselves to the known toxins found in conventional cigarettes. E-cigarettes might be less harmful than cigarettes, but conclusive research has not proven this. There are concerns that the other chemicals added in the solution could also be carcinogenic. In addition, consumers could be exposing themselves to tiny particles of metals from the device itself that are then inhaled. These tiny particles could travel deeply into the lungs. This could increase a consumer’s risk of contributing to or exacerbating asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema.

E-cigarettes & the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

In 2016, the FDA established a rule for e-cigarettes and liquids. Since they contain nicotine, which is derived from tobacco, they are subject to the same regulation as tobacco products. This means that both in-store and online purchasers must be at least 18 years of age. E-cigarettes are now the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the US. This could be the result of the ease of availability, advertisements, appealing flavors, and the belief that they are safer than cigarettes. These regulations were put in place to protect the health of minors due to unknown health effects and preliminary research on the effects of e-cigarettes on young people and teens. The research suggests that early use of e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine, can lead to regular use of tobacco products and increase the risk for addiction to other drugs.

Can They Help a person Quit?

E-cigarettes are not an FDA-approved quit aid, but some people believe that e-cigarettes lower cravings when trying to quit smoking. There is no conclusive scientific evidence on the effectiveness of e-cigarettes for long-term smoking cessation. E-cigarettes still contain nicotine, which can be addictive. Some preliminary research suggests that instead of acting as a quitting mechanism e-cigarettes may serve as a gateway to other tobacco products and even other drugs. For individuals interested in smoking cessation, an FDA approved method, such as nicotine gum, nicotine patches, nicotine lozenges, nicotine nasal spray, or other prescriptions for smoking cessation are still the only proven safe and effective methods.


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  • Maron, Dina Fine. “Smoke Screen: Are E-Cigarettes Safe?” Scientific American, 1 May 2014, www.scientificamerican.com/article/smoke-screen-are-e-cigarettes-safe/.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Electronic Cigarettes (E-Cigarettes).” NIDA, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/electronic-cigarettes-e-cigarettes.
  • What We Know About E-Cigarettes.” Smokefree.gov, smokefree.gov/quitting-smoking/e-cigs-menthol-dip-more/what-we-know-about-e-cigarettes.