E-cigarettes, or electronic cigarettes, are battery-operated smoking devices that usually look like conventional cigarettes. They can also resemble cigars, pipes, and other objects such as pens. The smoker puffs on the mouthpiece of a cartridge, which causes a vaporizer to heat the liquid inside the cartridge. This liquid contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals, and when heated it turns into the vapor that is inhaled. The act of using an electronic cigarette is called vaping.
Studies indicate that not only do they contain dangerous chemicals, e-cigarettes can lead people – especially teenagers – to smoking the real thing. One study concluded that students who had used e-cigarettes by the time they started 9th grade were more likely than others to start smoking cigarettes and other smokable tobacco products within the next year. High school students who used e-cigarettes in the previous month were about seven times more likely to report that they smoked cigarettes when asked approximately six months later, as compared to students who said they didn’t use e-cigarettes. The 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that e-cigarette use (on at least one day in the past 30 days) among high school students increased from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014, rising from approximately 660,000 to 2 million students. Among middle school students, e-cigarette use more than tripled from 1.1 percent in 2013 to 3.9 percent in 2014—an increase from approximately 120,000 to 450,000 students.
E-Cigarettes are sometimes touted as safer alternatives to cigarettes, or even as aids to help stop smoking, but the Food and Drug Administration does not recognize them as a stop-smoking aid. Not only do e-cigarettes contain nicotine, the substance that makes conventional cigarettes addictive, they may also have dangerous flavoring chemicals (like diacetyl, which is linked to lung disease), metals (such as lead), ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, and other cancer-causing chemicals. Much like secondhand smoke can be unhealthy for the people around a smoker, being near someone using an e-cigarette can expose you to the aerosol chemicals in it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, e-cigarettes have the potential to benefit adult smokers who are not pregnant if used as a complete substitute for regular cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products. However, e-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.
The FDA is taking steps to regular e-cigarettes, particularly because in the beginning there were no standards or investigations into their ingredients. In May 2016, the FDA declared that e-cigarettes are regulated “tobacco products” under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 (a.k.a. the Tobacco Act). As a result, e-cigarette manufacturers and retailers are prohibited from informing consumers that e-cigarettes are less dangerous than regular cigarettes.
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