Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and electronic hookah (e-hookahs) allow users to inhale a vapor that may contain nicotine, as well as other flavorings and chemicals. While some of these products resemble tobacco-based cigarettes and pipes, others may look like ink pens or USB memory sticks. The term “vaping” is used to describe the act of using these products. The manufacturers of e-cigarettes market their wares as:
- A safer alternative to using tobacco products
- A way to “smoke” without becoming addicted to nicotine
- A legal way to “smoke” in areas where smoking is not permitted
- A safe, effective smoking cessation tool
- For adult use only
But are these claims fact or myth? Let’s take a closer look...
MYTH: E-cigarettes are a safer alternative to using tobacco products.
FACT: E-cigarettes are unregulated tobacco products.
Currently, e-cigarettes are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – so there are no safety reviews, labeling requirements or guidelines for what chemicals can be used in an e-cigarette. Studies have found toxic chemicals (such as an ingredient used in antifreeze and formaldehyde) in e-cigarettes. In addition, the aerosol (vapor) emitted by e-cigarettes and exhaled by users contains cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens) such as formaldehyde. There is no evidence that shows these products are safe for either short- or long-term use.
MYTH: Vaping is a way to “smoke” without becoming addicted as e-cigarettes don’t contain nicotine.
FACT: Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, including many that are marked as being “nicotine-free.” A 2014 study showed a wide range of varying nicotine levels in e-cigarettes and also discrepancies between labeled and actual nicotine levels in these products. The potential for addiction to nicotine rises with the amount of nicotine ingested.
MYTH: Vaping is a legal way to “smoke” in areas where smoking is not permitted.
FACT: Some states restrict e-cigarette use in smoke-free venues such as workplaces, restaurants, bars and gambling facilities. Other state laws that do not explicitly address e-cigarettes might be interpreted as prohibiting their use in existing smoke-free venues.
Most local and state smoke-free laws were enacted before e-cigarettes were on the market. While these laws may not specifically mention e-cigarettes, it should not be assumed that their use is permitted, especially in smoke-free venues such as workplaces, restaurants, bars and gambling facilities. Some states and municipalities have laws currently in effect that regulate where the use of e-cigarettes is prohibited. In addition, discussions are underway at both the federal and state level to regulate the use of e-cigarettes. Review a list of states and municipalities with laws regulating the use of e-cigarettes as of October 2, 2015.
MYTH: Vaping is a safe, effective smoking cessation tool.
FACT: The FDA has not found any e-cigarette to be a safe, effective tool to help smokers quit.
The FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has not approved any e-cigarette as a safe or effective method to help smokers quit smoking. The U.S. Public Health Service has found that the therapies approved by the FDA (i.e., nicotine-containing gum, lozenges, skin patches, nasal spray and oral inhaled products) when used in combination with individual, group or phone cessation counseling is still the most effective way to help smokers kick their habit.
MYTH: E-cigarettes are not being marketed to children.
FACT: E-cigarette use among middle school and high school students has tripled.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), e-cigarette use among middle school and high school students tripled in one year, rising from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014 among high school students, and from 1.1 percent in 2013 to 3.9 percent in 2014 among middle school students. Teens are now more likely to use e-cigarettes than to smoke traditional cigarettes.  Aggressive marketing tactics such as using cartoon characters and candy-like flavors to appeal to teens have resulted in a dramatic increase in kids using e-cigarettes.
Visit the American Lung Association’s website for more information about e-cigarettes, vaping and health.
Trying to quit smoking? Find out more about Summa’s program.
Megan Dean, M ed, AT, CHES, CTTS
Summa Health System