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HomeHealth A-Z Electronic Cigarettes
Electronic Cigarettes
Electronic Cigarettes
Electronic cigarettes offer users the sensation of smoking without harmful tobacco smoke.

Electronic Cigarettes

Definition of Electronic Cigarette

An electronic cigarette is a battery-powered device designed to deliver nicotine and/or other substances to a user in the form of a vapor. Also known as an e-cigarette, e-cig, smokeless cigarettes, or personal vaporizer (PV).

Overview of Electronic Cigarettes

The electronic cigarette is a relatively new product promoted as an enjoyable and smoke-free alternative to smoking. It mimics the sensations of traditional cigarettes (hand-to-mouth motion, taste, feel, and nicotine hit), but does not burn or create any harmful tobacco smoke or other gaseous products of combustion or ash.

Rather, the electronic cigarette produces a vapor from vaporization which can be inhaled and exhaled by the user. The vapor may look like smoke, but it more closely resembles stage fog.

The liquid solution consists of only a few basic ingredients: water, liquid nicotine (various strengths or nicotine-free), flavoring, and propylene glycol (PG) and/or vegetable glycerin (VG). Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, which are both common food additives, are added to the liquid to produce the smoke-like vapor.

Typically, the device is composed of a rechargeable battery (power source), atomizer (heating element), and a replaceable or refillable cartridge (holds liquid solution). It works by using a slight amount of heat to atomize (vaporize) the liquid solution of choice (various ingredients, flavors, and nicotine levels). A light at the tip of the electronic cigarette lights up with each puff.

Electronic cigarettes are available in many sizes and types; some are made to look like traditional cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, while some are made to look like ordinary items like pens and USB sticks.

Invention of the Electronic Cigarette

The electronic cigarette was invented in 2003 by Hon Lik, a Chinese medicine practitioner and addicted smoker. He developed the smoke-free device after his father (who was also a heavy smoker) died from lung cancer. The electronic cigarette was introduced to the Chinese market in 2004 by the company Hon Lik worked for, Golden Dragon Holdings. Golden Dragon Holdings later changed its name to Ruyan (meaning “to resemble smoking”) and started selling the electronic cigarette globally.

Marketing of the Electronic Cigarette

Electronic cigarettes are primary marketed to existing smokers as an enjoyable smoke-free alternative to tobacco cigarettes. Although many smokers are successfully switching from traditional cigarettes to electronic cigarettes, they cannot be marketed as a smoking cessation device in the United States since they have not yet been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this purpose. Without FDA approval, manufacturers cannot make any claims that would lead users to believe that the electronic cigarette will help them stop smoking.

Health Benefits

Supporters of electronic cigarettes believe the device offers great health advantages for cigarette smokers. Electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine to those with an addiction without involving harmful tobacco smoke. While nicotine is an addictive substance, it is the smoke that kills. By eliminating smoke, electronic cigarettes provide users with a safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes. Supporters consider them a method of harm reduction for existing smokers.

Electronic cigarettes are relatively new and few studies have been done on them, however, research involving other smokeless products has shown that switching to smokeless tobacco products (snus, chewing tobacco, or lozenges), reduces the health risk of tobacco use by over 95% (compared to smoking cigarettes).

In one of the few studies involving electronic cigarettes, researchers at Boston University School of Public Health concluded that electronic cigarettes were much safer than real cigarettes. According to their data, carcinogen levels in electronic cigarettes are up to 1,000 times lower than in tobacco cigarettes.

Health Risks

The FDA is concerned about the use of electronic cigarettes as they have not yet been evaluated for safety or effectiveness. The FDA also has concerns about the quality control process and lack of regulation and consistent product standards.

Electronic cigarettes are not intended for children, non-smokers, pregnant women, or people with cardiovascular disease or other health problems. The primary ingredient of concern is nicotine, a highly addictive substance. Although addictive, nicotine is relatively safe for most individuals and produces effects similar to another commonly used substance, caffeine.

External Resources

FDA: Electronic Cigarettes

Electronic Cigarette Review

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