What We Know About Electronic Cigarettes

April 1, 2020
What We Know About Electronic Cigarettes

E-cigarettes usually contain nicotine and may have other harmful substances too. There’s a lot of conflicting information and we still have a lot to learn, but here’s what we currently know.

E-cigarettes are known by many different names: e-cigs, e-hookahs, vapes, vape pens, tank systems or mods. They come in many different shapes and sizes. Some look like a regular cigarette, some look very different.

Many ads and articles say e-cigarettes are not harmful, or are a good way to help smokers quit smoking. But doctors and researchers still have a lot to learn about their health effects. They may be less harmful than regular cigarettes, but that doesn’t mean they’re harmless.

What exactly are e-cigarettes?

E-cigs are battery-powered devices that work by heating a liquid into an aerosol that the user inhales and exhales. The liquid most often contains nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerin, flavorings and other chemicals. Some of those substances can be harmful. The flavoring chemical diacetyl is linked to lung disease. The liquid can also include metals (like lead), and other cancer-causing chemicals.

Are e-cigarettes regulated?

Companies that make or sell e-cigarettes must follow certain Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. For example, only people age 18 and over may buy e-cigarettes. Ongoing research may lead to more regulations and could tell us more about the health risks of using them.

What are the known health risks of e-cigs?

E-cigarettes have only been on the market for about 11 years. Scientists are studying them to understand how they affect people’s health. Here’s what doctors and researchers know right now:

  • They usually contain nicotine, which is what makes tobacco products addictive. Some that claim to be nicotine-free have been found to contain it.
  • They are harmful for youth, young adults, and pregnant women. Nicotine is harmful for developing babies. It can lead to addiction and affect brain development in children and young adults.
  • They may contain other harmful substances. E-cigs often have fewer chemicals than regular cigarettes, but may still contain dangerous substances. These can include heavy metals like lead, flavorings linked to lung disease, small particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, and cancer-causing chemicals.

Being near someone using an e-cigarette can expose you to the aerosol and the chemicals in it. This is similar to second-hand smoke from regular cigarettes.

Can e-cigarettes help people quit smoking?

E-cigarettes are not approved by the FDA as a quit smoking aid. So far, there is limited evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers quit. There are many other proven, safe and effective methods for quitting smoking.  

There is still much to learn about e-cigarettes. But the evidence is clear that their harmful health effects mean that teens and young adults should not use them.

More Resources

Learn more about the effect of nicotine on your body and get more tips and tools for quitting at Smokefree.gov*

*Provides free, accurate, evidence-based information and professional assistance to help support the immediate and long-term needs of people trying to quit smoking.

For one-on-one coaching or to enroll in our QCARE Kick the Nic! stopping tobacco use program, call 800.235.7111 or 501.228.7111 and ask to speak to a Care Manager.

Health plans vary. Check with your employer or plan administrator to see if QCARE is included.