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What is e-cigarette?

E-cigarettes go by many different names, including e-cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), alternative nicotine delivery systems (ANDS), e-hookahs, mods, vape pens, vaporizers, e-cigarettes, and tank systems.

E-cigarettes come in many shapes and sizes. They can look like cigarettes, cigars, pipes, pens, USB drives, or other forms.

An e-cigarette consists of a battery that turns on the device, a heating element that heats the e-liquid and converts it into an aerosol of tiny particles (sometimes called "vapor"), a cartridge or tank that holds the e-liquid, and a device for inhaling the aerosol nozzle or opening.

E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, but many e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which comes from tobacco. Therefore, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies them as "tobacco products."

What is e-cigarette?

Using e-cigarettes is often referred to as "vaping" because many people believe that e-cigarettes produce vapor that is then inhaled. But in fact, e-cigarettes produce aerosols composed of tiny particles, which are different from vapor.

How do e-cigarettes work?

E-cigarettes heat a liquid (called e-liquid or e-juice), converting it into an aerosol (sometimes called "vapor"). E-cigarette users inhale it into their lungs.

Do e-cigarettes contain nicotine?

The e-liquid in most e-cigarettes contains nicotine, the same nicotine found in regular cigarettes, cigars, hookahs and other tobacco products. However, the nicotine content in all types of e-cigarettes is not the same, and sometimes the true nicotine content is not listed on product labels.

There are some e-cigarette brands that claim to be nicotine-free but have been found to contain nicotine.

What does e-cigarette aerosol ("vapor") contain?

Although the word "vapor" sounds harmless, the aerosols produced in e-cigarettes are not water vapor and can be harmful. E-cigarette aerosols may contain nicotine and other addictive substances that can cause lung disease, heart disease and cancer.

Again, it's important to know that most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. There is evidence that nicotine can harm brain development in teenagers. If used during pregnancy, nicotine may also cause premature birth and low birth weight babies.

In addition to nicotine, e-cigarettes and e-cigarette vapor often contain propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerin. These substances are used to create stage or theatrical fog and have been found to increase lung and respiratory tract irritation after concentrated exposure.

In addition, e-cigarettes and e-cigarette vapor may contain the following chemicals or substances.

  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): At certain concentrations, VOCs can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches and nausea, and can damage the liver, kidneys and nervous system.
  • Flavoring chemicals: Some flavorings are more toxic than others. Research shows that some spices contain varying levels of a chemical called diethyl, which has been linked to a serious lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans.
  • Formaldehyde: This is a carcinogen that can form if e-liquid is overheated or if not enough liquid reaches the heating element (called "dry smoking").

The FDA does not currently require testing of all substances in e-cigarettes to ensure they are safe. It's also difficult to know exactly what chemicals are in e-cigarettes because most products don't list all the harmful or potentially harmful substances they contain. Some products are also incorrectly labeled.

It's important to know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that sometimes e-cigarette products are altered or modified and may contain harmful or illegal substances from unknown sources. You can read more about this statement on the CDC Newsroom page.

What are the health effects of e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are still fairly new and more research over a longer period of time is needed to understand what their long-term effects may be. Most importantly, the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes remain unknown, and all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, can pose health risks to users.

The American Cancer Society is paying close attention to new research on the effects of using e-cigarettes and other new tobacco products. (See “What’s in the aerosol (“vapor”) of e-cigarettes? and “Do e-cigarettes contain nicotine?)”

How much is known about e-cigarette use among teenagers?

No teenager, including middle school and high school students, should use e-cigarettes or any tobacco product. (See "What's in the aerosol ("vapor") of e-cigarettes?")

It’s important to know that most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive. There is evidence that nicotine can harm brain development in teenagers.

Some studies suggest that e-cigarette use among some teens may be associated with later use of regular cigarettes and other tobacco products. E-cigarette use may lead some children or teens to want to use other, more harmful tobacco products.

The FDA has the authority to regulate all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. The FDA is studying several options to prevent youth access to e-cigarettes.

Does using e-cigarettes cause cancer?

Scientists are still studying how long-term use of e-cigarettes affects health. It's important to know that the aerosols ("vapor") in e-cigarettes contain some cancer-causing chemicals, although the levels are significantly lower than those in cigarette smoke.

Will e-cigarettes explode?

There have been reports of e-cigarettes exploding and causing serious injuries. Usually explosions are caused by a faulty battery or not handling the battery the way it should be handled. Please visit the FDA website for safety tips to help avoid exploding e-cigarette batteries.

Is exposure to second-hand e-cigarette aerosol harmful?

Although e-cigarettes do not emit smoke like tobacco cigarettes, they do expose people to second-hand aerosols or "vapors" that may contain harmful substances. Scientists are still learning about the health effects of exposure to secondhand e-cigarette aerosols.

Smoke-free policies of schools, businesses, healthcare facilities and other organizations should also cover e-cigarettes. This will help non-users avoid exposure to potentially harmful e-cigarette aerosols.

Can e-cigarettes help people quit smoking (called cessation)?

Currently, the FDA has not approved e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid. This is because there isn't enough research or evidence yet. On the other hand, the body of evidence clearly shows that FDA-approved drugs are safe and effective ways to help people quit smoking, especially when combined with counseling.

Some smokers choose to try e-cigarettes to help quit smoking. Quitting smoking clearly has health benefits. But switching to e-cigarettes still exposes users to potentially serious ongoing health risks. It is important to stop using all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, as soon as possible to reduce health risks and avoid becoming addicted to nicotine. If you have trouble quitting smoking on your own, seek help from your doctor or other support services, such as your state's quit line.

People who have completely switched from smoking to vaping should not return to smoking (either alone or with e-cigarettes), which could expose them to potentially damaging health effects.

Some smokers choose to continue using cigarettes and e-cigarettes simultaneously, regardless of whether they are trying to quit smoking. This is called "dual use." The dual use of e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes can lead to significant health risks, as smoking regular cigarettes in any amount is very harmful. People should not use both products at the same time, and people are strongly encouraged to stop using all tobacco products entirely.

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