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Smoke Out the Truth on E-Cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, might be a popular new way to smoke, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe. Even though these devices don’t use tobacco, they still contain nicotine—a highly addictive drug.

One big concern: Adults might reach for e-cigarettes to help them quit or cut back on smoking. But these devices aren’t approved as a safe or effective quitting method, and their long-term health effects are unknown.

What Are They?

Electronic cigarettes can look like cigarettes, cigars, pipes, pens, or even USB memory sticks. These devices usually have four parts:

  1. A cartridge full of liquid, which contains nicotine and other chemicals and flavorings

  2. A heating element

  3. A power source (usually a battery)

  4. A mouthpiece

During a process called vaping, users inhale the vapor of the heated liquid. Vaping has become more popular among people of all ages—particularly among teens and smokers looking for an alternative to traditional cigarettes.

Think They’re Safe? Stub Out That Thought

Some studies suggest e-cigarettes might be less harmful than cigarettes when people who regularly smoke switch to them as a complete replacement. And some companies market them as a tool to help smokers quit. But doctors and health experts aren’t sure.

On one hand, the vapors do not contain the same harmful chemicals as tobacco smoke. But e-cigarette users still breathe in addictive nicotine and other harmful substances, such as cancer-causing agents. And there is no conclusive scientific evidence on the effectiveness of e-cigarettes for long-term smoking cessation.

Another problem: The FDA, which regulates a variety of products (including medicines and tobacco products), hasn’t approved them as a way to help smokers quit. So it’s hard to know exactly how much nicotine or other chemicals users may be subjected to.

The Bottom Line: Use Other Quitting Methods

Doctors still have much to learn about the effects of e-cigarettes on the human body and the environment. If you want to stop smoking, talk with your doctor about ways that are proven to help, such as nicotine replacement products. You don’t have to quit cold turkey.

© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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