E-cigarettes – What You Need to Know

by: Cole McKenzie, University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, Class of 2018

E-cigarettes entered the market in the United States back in 2006 and their use has dramatically increased over the years.  The many uncertainties question e-cigarettes safety and whether they help tobacco users stop smoking. There is question about long-term health effects as well as public health concerns about the effects e-cigarettes are having on smoking prevalence and access for adolescents.

What is an e-cigarette?

An e-cigarette consist of a refillable cartridge containing a liquid, an atomizer (vaporization chamber with a heating element), and a battery. When a user inhales an e-cigarette the atomizer heats the liquid which creates a vapor that duplicates tobacco smoke, but is not. As a result of how e-cigarettes work, “vaping” is a common term used to describe when an individual uses an e-cig.

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So what’s the problem with e-cigarettes?

Currently, the United States FDA is not regulating them, so consumers of e-cigarettes are unaware of what exactly they are inhaling. The main components found in the liquid of e-cigs are nicotine, propylene glycol or glycerol, and flavoring. Chemical analysis of products available in the US has shown inconsistency with the manufacturer’s package labeling. Some products said to be nicotine-free have been found to contain nicotine, whereas others that have claimed to have a specified amount ended up containing higher concentrations. Toxic metals such as tin, lead, nickel, and chromium have also been found in e-cigarette liquids.

Another area of public concern is that unlike conventional cigarettes, e-cigs are able to be sold with different flavorings. With over 7,000 flavors available it should come as no surprise that it appears e-cigarettes are attracting the youth, many of which who are not already smoking. Data and surveys predict that from 2011 to 2014, e-cigarette use in high school students has increased from 1.5 to 13.4 percent.

Surveys have shown that a majority of e-cigarette users are made up of current conventional smokers of cigarettes. This majority of users view e-cigarettes as a tool to help them quit conventional cigarettes or reduce their use. At this point e-cigarettes are still too new to the market to determine if they could be a useful tool for people trying to quit conventional cigarette smoking. There are also the additional health concerns of inhaling e-cigarette’s contents and their alarming rise of use among the adolescent population. It will be interesting to see whether e-cigarettes will continue to expand and whether congress will begin to push for more regulations.

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