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Are they as harmful as cigarettes?

What is an e-cigarette?

An electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) is a battery operated device that heats a liquid into a vapor, which is inhaled. The liquid often contains nicotine and other chemicals and may come in different flavors.

Some people who are trying to quit smoking choose to use electronic cigarettes to manage nicotine cravings.

Are they an effective tool for quitting smoking?

Not enough research has been done to show whether e-cigarettes are as harmful as cigarettes and whether they can be used in the short term as an effective tool for helping people quit smoking.

  • The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) found that some e-cigarette cartridges contained known cancer-causing agents and issued a warning about health risks.
  • We don’t know the long-term impact of inhaling nicotine and other chemicals or breathing second-hand “smoke” in the air from e-cigarettes.
  • E-cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA and the amount of nicotine and other chemicals can vary among products. They are also heavily marketed as they are not currently regulated in terms of advertising.
  • Some states have banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors because they may lead to teens experimenting with tobacco products. In recent years, the use of e-cigarettes has tripled among youth.
  • The liquid in the cartridge is dangerous to young children if they drink it.

Because there are no studies showing that e-cigarettes are safe or that they help people who want to quit smoking, Kaiser Permanente recommends that our members avoid e-cigarettes and use approved nicotine replacement therapy methods like nicotine gum, lozenges and patches to quit smoking.

Reviewed by: Craig Robbins, MD, November 2018