In an electronic cigarette, flavored nicotine liquid is converted into an inhalable aerosol — and smoked much like a traditional cigarette. Some have suggested that these “e-cigarettes” might help smokers quit the habit in favor of vapor.
It’s a practice called “vaping”—and it’s controversial.
Food and Drug Administration now regulates the use of electronic cigarettes, and more than 500 municipalities across the United States have passed laws requiring “vaping” to be treated like traditional smoking.
Many worry about the potential toxicity of vaping devices, and whether e-cigarettes might pave the way for traditional cigarette use in young people.
What Are Electronic Cigarettes?
Electronic cigarettes (also known as “e-cigs” or “e-cigarettes”) are devices filled with liquid nicotine and other chemicals. The electronic cigarette is powered by a battery and turns the liquid into an inhalable aerosol.
Many people use e-cigarettes as an alternative to or as a way to quit traditional cigarette smoking. Many people, however, revert to cigarette smoking or using both traditional and e-cigarettes.
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Health Dangers of Using an e-Cigarette
At first glance, use of e-cigarettes seems to be far less concerning than smoking traditional cigarettes. But there are several reasons why doctors do not recommend e-cigarettes as a means of smoking cessation.
Nicotine in e-Cigarettes
It is important to emphasize that e-cigarettes contain significant amounts of nicotine.
- Vaping devices that are supposed to be nicotine free have been shown to contain some small amounts of nicotine.
- Inhaling nicotine can result in immediate side effects. These include nausea, seizures, and heart palpitations.
- Nicotine can impair brain development, especially in children.
The biggest concern regarding nicotine, however, is its addictiveness. Users who wish to cut back or stop using e-cigarettes may experience withdrawal symptoms such as moodiness, depression, headaches, and anxiety. In some cases, e-cigarette use leads individuals to take up traditional smoking.
Other Chemicals in e-Liquids
Diacetyl and other flavored chemicals used in e-cigarettes can cause lung disease and damage to your arteries and blood vessels.
Propylene glycol, another chemical often found in electronic cigarette liquid, is an irritant that when heated turns into formaldehyde, a substance linked to cancer
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The aerosol from an e-cigarette also can harm those near the smoker, creating a different kind of “second-hand smoke.” People are most exposed to the effects of aerosol from an e-cigarette when indoors or in enclosed spaces.
Air quality declines as the e-cigarette releases the aerosol, which contains not only nicotine but also many of the same carcinogens found in traditional cigarettes. Exposure to the aerosol from e-cigarettes does likely place bystanders at risk for heart and lung disease, though the dangers do not seem to be as high as second-hand smoke from traditional cigarettes.
So, the next time someone tries to convince you that smoking an e-cigarette is harmless – water vapor, you may want to think again.
The UPMC Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center is a joint program between UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. We are located at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside. We provide long-term care for adolescents, young adults, maternal patients, and adults with congenital heart disease. Our goal is to provide complete care from your childhood all the way through your life.