Mind and Body

E-Cigarettes: A Safer Source of Nicotine?

Anyone who has tried to quit smoking knows it can entail herculean efforts. Withdrawal symptoms from nicotine and constant cravings for a cigarette cause many smokers to quit on quitting. Some smokers may be tempted to try electronic cigarettes - or e-cigarettes. They may sound like a healthier option. But these devices may be no safer than traditional cigarettes.

Close-up photo of stubbed out cigarettes

What's the appeal?

Like the common cigarette, e-cigarettes jolt the body with nicotine. But you don't burn them. Instead, these battery-operated devices heat up and convert nicotine into a vapor. The nicotine comes packaged in replaceable cartridges. These cartridges may also contain other chemicals, including flavorings like chocolate, mint, or coffee. In a process called "vaping," users insert a cartridge in the e-cigarette and then inhale the emitted vapor.

E-cigarettes are often designed to mimic other nicotine-providing products, such as cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. They can also look like everyday objects, such as pens or USB devices. Some versions have a built-in light on the tip that glows when puffed. They may also contain a chemical called propylene glycol that, when vaped, simulates smoke.

Why the concern?

Manufacturers of e-cigarettes have claimed their products are healthier than regular cigarettes. They have also recommended e-cigarettes as a quit-smoking aide. The problem? These claims lack supporting scientific data. E-cigarettes may emit no smell and leave no ash, but not enough research has been done yet to say they are safer or effective in helping smokers quit.

A study in the journal Chest provides some compelling evidence against the use of e-cigarettes. Researchers measured how e-cigarettes affected the lungs of a small group of smokers. After only 5 minutes of using an e-cigarette, study participants showed signs of inflammation in their lungs. The study results suggest using e-cigarettes for a long period of time may harm the lungs and body.

Until more is known, the National Lung Association and the FDA recommend that consumers not use e-cigarettes. Their main concerns: Some chemicals in cartridges may be toxic. The amount of nicotine in cartridges may also vary from what is advertised on the label; some tests have found cartridges to contain more or less of the addictive substance.

Are you looking to quit smoking? Talk with your doctor or visit smokefree.gov to find out about all the proven products – like the nicotine patch or nasal spray, and nicotine-free prescriptions – that can help. Also take this quiz to learn about the health benefits of not smoking.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

FDA - E-Cigarettes: Questions and Answers


March 2013

10 Tips to Quit Smoking

Even after you've overcome the withdrawal symptoms of nicotine, smoking can be a hard habit to shake. Here are 10 tips to help you stay smoke-free:

  • Spend your time in places where smoking isn't allowed, such as museums or stores.

  • Drink a lot of liquids.

  • Avoid beverages you associate with smoking, particularly alcohol and coffee.

  • Keep your hands busy so you won't miss holding a cigarette.

  • Keep oral substitutes, such as healthy snacks, handy.

  • Associate with nonsmokers whenever possible.

  • Learn relaxation techniques to combat anxiety.

  • Start exercising to help reduce the possibility of weight gain.

  • Eat healthy meals and get plenty of rest.

  • Talk with your doctor or a smoking counselor for support.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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