E-Cigarettes: What Do We Really Know?

Blaire Carter, Mercer University College of Pharmacy 2015

Electronic cigarettes, commonly known as e-cigs, have become increasingly popular to adults and young people since their release in 2008. The devices are battery operated and come in a variety of flavors.1 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the cartridges contain nicotine, a component to produce the aerosol, and a flavoring.2  

 In April 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a new rule that would ban the sale of e-cigs to minors and require health warnings on the devices. Also, the FDA will now require manufacturers to register products and ingredients with the FDA, get FDA approval before marketing, make reduced risk claims only if there is scientific evidence and proven health benefits, and refrain from distributing free samples.1

The American Heart Association suggests that cigarette smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. It accounts for more than 440,000 of the more than 2.4 million deaths each year.3 Health advocates fear that e-cigs may be a gateway to cigarettes and other tobacco use.1 In a National Youth Tobacco Survey among students in grades 6-12, e-cig use significantly increased from 3.3% to 6.8% from 2011 to 2012.  Among current users of electronic cigarettes, 76.3% reported also smoking conventional cigarettes. Experimentation and use of e-cigs doubled in these students and resulted in an estimated 1.78 million students ever having used an e-cig as of 2012.2

The use of electronic cigarettes remains a concern because the long-term impact on a person’s health remains unknown. Studies have shown that e-cigs can cause short-term lung changes similar to those caused by conventional cigarettes. 4 Making the decision to quit smoking is the first step to a more healthy life. The American Cancer Society (ACS) suggests setting a date and deciding on a plan to quit. This will help move to the next phase of quitting. The ACS also recommends talking to a doctor and/or pharmacist about methods to help quit smoking.5


  1. American Heart Association. http://blog.heart.org/fda-expected-to-propose-regulation-of-electronic-cigarettes/. Accessed June 2, 2014.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6235a6.htm. Accessed June 2, 2014.
  3. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/QuitSmoking/QuittingResources/Smoking-Cardiovascular-Disease-Heart-Disease_UCM_305187_Article.jsp. Accessed June 2, 2014.
  4. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/tobaccocancer/questionsaboutsmokingtobaccoandhealth/questions-about-smoking-tobacco-and-health-e-cigarettes. Accessed June 2, 2014.
  5. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/healthy/stayawayfromtobacco/guidetoquittingsmoking/guide-to-quitting-smoking-setting-a-date-to-quit-smoking. Accessed June 2, 2014.

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