You may have seen electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in stores, in advertisements, or being used. But e-cigarettes, while increasingly popular, are not harmless. Created as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarettes are sophisticated mechanical devices designed to deliver the same highly addictive nicotine that is in tobacco cigarettes, without the other harmful effects of tobacco smoke.
In the past decade, e-cigarettes have become a more than $1 billion industry in the United States, with over 460 brands on the market. Many adults who use e-cigarettes are current or former smokers looking to stop nicotine cravings, quit smoking, or cut down on tobacco cigarettes. However, e-cigarettes may have a limited effect on helping people quit since at least 75 percent of adults who use e-cigarettes also use tobacco cigarettes.1
And although most states prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to people under the age of 18, more and more teens are using them. In fact, recent surveys2 show dramatic increases each year in the number of teens who have tried an e-cigarette in their lifetime, as well as in the number who have used them in the past month. This is at a time when smoking tobacco cigarettes is at an all-time low among middle and high school students.
With e-cigarette use on the rise, the federal government is considering regulation of how e-cigarettes are made and sold. If this happens, e-cigarettes may be subject to rules on safety, advertising, and warning labels similar to those that govern the sale of tobacco cigarettes. For now, however, consumers should not assume that the products are guaranteed to be safe or that claims made in advertising are accurate.
As for the science on the risk of e-cigarettes and the possible benefits for current smokers, research is just beginning. But there is already a growing body of evidence showing that teens would be smart never to start using e-cigarettes.