What are they?

If you have turned on the TV or walked down a busy street recently, you have likely seen electronic cigarettes (e-cigs).  E-cigs are sometimes referred to as vapes, vapors or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). All of these are battery-powered devices that heat up a liquid solution creating a vapor that is then inhaled by the user. The devices come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.  Some have a similar look and feel to that of a traditional tobacco cigarette but e-cigs are not considered a tobacco product. The laws that cover traditional cigarettes do not necessarily apply. State laws differ about how old someone has to be to purchase the devices, and they are easily purchased on the internet without any age verification.

So what is the vapor?  Isn’t it only water?

The liquid contained inside of the devices, sometimes referred to as e-liquid or e-juice is usually made from propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin mixed with flavoring chemicals and sometimes nicotine. While both propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use as a food additive and safe for consumption at low levels, there are not a lot of studies looking at the health effects when it is vaporized and inhaled.  Since e-cigs are relatively new, the studies that exist are not able to look at the long-term health effects.  What the studies suggest is that e-cigs produce small particles that, when inhaled, cause a decrease in lung function. These particles can be exhaled and cause a second-hand effect on those who are nearby e-cig users. Some of the flavor additives also appear to produce potentially toxic chemicals when vaporized and inhaled. Even e-cigs that do not contain nicotine may have serious long-term health effects simply from the flavoring compounds. Due to the lack of regulations, the amount of nicotine, contained in e-cigs varies widely.

But they must be better than a traditional cigarette, right?

There is no long-term health data on e-cig use; it is too early to know exactly what the effects might be. The Siteman Cancer Center currently recommends against the use of e-cigs and other electronic vaping devices.

My teen has expressed interest in getting one, where can I get more information?

Start by learning more about e-cigs and what scientific information is available. Use the sources below as a starting point. Your teen’s health care provider is also a reliable resource. Then identify your feelings and beliefs about e-cigs. Finally, start a conversation with your teen about their feelings and help them make the best decision for their health.  We know this is not a simple conversation to have with your teen. The following questions may help teens think critically about e-cigs.

Do e-cigs promote health?

Should teens get in the habit of using something so similar to a cigarette even if it does not contain nicotine? 

What are the financial implications? 

Could their use lead to other unhealthy behaviors?  


American Heart Association Journals, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration

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