E-Cigarettes: What Are They?

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  • An electronic cigarette or e-cigarette is a battery operated device that emits doses of nicotine that are inhaled. Instead of smoke, the nicotine is part of a vaporized solution consisting mostly of water, making it potentially less harmful than traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes are marketed by tobacco companies as alternatives for those who enjoy cigarettes but want to avoid smoking.

    This makes them popular with those who are trying to wean themselves off of cigarettes and eventually quit smoking altogether. Because they emit water vapor instead of smoke, e-cigarettes are often used in places where smoking is discouraged or not allowed.

    E-cigarettes are designed to resemble traditional cigarettes. They mostly consist of a long tube with a mouthpiece and cartridge at the end that often resembles a cigarette filter. Most e-cigarettes available now are automatic and become activated when the user inhales from the mouthpiece. However, some earlier models required users to push a small button to activate the device.

    How It Works
    An e-cigarette works by heating water containing a dose of nicotine and allowing the user to inhale the dose in much the same way as they would inhale the smoke from a cigarette. Water vapor is even exhaled by the user in a very similar way. The solution is known as e-juice or e-liquid, and it comes in cartridges that are loaded into the e-cigarette.

    Although most e-liquid is intended to mimic the flavor of a cigarette, hundreds of flavors are available. E-cigarettes contain a heating element that heats and vaporizes the e-liquid. The element itself is powered by a rechargeable battery, although there are "disposable" e-cigarettes that are thrown away after so many uses. Some models even have an LED light that indicate when the cigarette is in use.

    Is It Safe?
    E-cigarettes have been marketed as a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes. Much of the solution that is inhaled is composed of water, and many of the 4,000 chemicals found in tobacco smoke are removed from the equation. However, the devices may not be as safe as they appear. In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration performed one of the first analyses of e-cigarette vapor and found that it contains several known carcinogens such as nitrosamines along with diethylene glycol and other toxic substances.

    E-cigarettes are currently unregulated, which means that there is little known about them or the health risks they pose. This means that companies can keep consumers in the dark about what they contain. The FDA is concerned that consumers are being misled by tobacco companies that are marketing e-cigarettes as a wholly safe alternative to tobacco cigarettes. They do seem to be slightly safer than traditional cigarettes, but they still pose significant health risks.

    Furthermore, those who use e-cigarettes are still getting doses of nicotine, the substance that makes tobacco so addictive in the first place. Using an e-cigarette will not help anybody overcome their addiction; it will only replace cigarettes with another product.

    The popularity of e-cigarettes is certainly undeniable, but at this point it’s hard to tell if they really can help those who want to quit smoking. Most health experts say that they are an alternative to cigarettes, but not necessarily a healthier one. Until more is known about this relatively new product, perhaps it’s safe to stay away and find other ways of controlling cigarette cravings.

    This article was contributed by Mike Gordon, recent college grad and smoke aficienado. If you are interested in finding the best e cigarette for you, Mike suggests checking out electric cigarette reviews, at bestelectroniccigarettesource.net.

    Infographic by Da Vinci


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