Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that turn liquid nicotine into a vapor that you inhale. Many of them are made to look like real cigarettes. Some even have a light at the end that glows when you inhale.
For smokers, electronic cigarettes may satisfy nicotine cravings. They can be used in nonsmoking areas. And they may have less of the harmful chemicals that are in cigarette smoke. These cigarettes are often called e-cigarettes.
How do electronic cigarettes work?
E-cigarettes have three main parts.
- The mouthpiece has a cartridge. The cartridge contains a nicotine solution.
- A heating element turns the solution into a vapor when you inhale.
- A battery provides power to the heating element.
The nicotine in these cigarettes comes in flavors. Flavors include "regular" and "menthol." But they also include hundreds of other flavors like cherry, chocolate, and cola.
A chemical in the vapor turns it white so that it looks like smoke, even when you exhale.
Electronic cigars and pipes are also available.
Are e-cigarettes safe?
Since most of the harm from smoking is not from nicotine but from other things in tobacco, e-cigarettes may be safer than real cigarettes. But more research is needed before experts can say for sure.
The cartridges contain different levels of nicotine. So in theory, you could lower the nicotine levels over time until you no longer crave nicotine. This is why some people use them as aids to quitting smoking.
If you are thinking about using e-cigarettes to help you quit smoking, talk to your doctor first.
Other Works Consulted
Flouris AD, Oikonomou DN (2010). Electronic cigarettes: Miracle or menace? BMJ, 340: c311.
Yamin CK, et al. (2010). E-cigarettes: A rapidly growing Internet phenomenon. Annals of Internal Medicine, 153(9): 607–609.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Adam Husney, MD, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||John Hughes, MD - Psychiatry|
|Last Revised||July 6, 2011|
|By:||Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: July 6, 2011|
|Medical Review:||Adam Husney, MD, MD - Family Medicine|
John Hughes, MD - Psychiatry
© 1995-, Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
This information is for educational purposes only and is unrelated to health plan benefits or coverage. Services addressed may not be covered under your health plan. If you have questions about your coverage, please refer to your benefit plan document or call the number on the back of your health plan membership ID card.