Health Risks of E-cigarettes

Chelsea, MA eCigarett
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E-cigarettes (or e-hookahs, hookah sticks, hookah pens, vaping pens) are everywhere these days. What are they?  They are battery-powered devices that turn liquid into a vapor by heating it. The user inhales the vapor.  E-cigarettes are very popular among teenagers, and adults sometimes use them to try to quit smoking.  Some of these devices are disposable; others can be refilled.

Are they safe?  We don’t yet know if they are safe because we don’t know how the vapor form of the liquid affects our lungs and bodies.  Also, the labels don’t always tell us what is in the liquid.

The liquid almost always includes vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, water and flavorings.  Quite often it also contains nicotine, which we know is highly addictive and affects the brain.  In some cases, the liquids have been found to have toxic chemicals.  No government agency regulates what is in e-cigarettes, and no government agency has determined if they are safe or if they are effective for quitting smoking. 

Everyone should know that one swallow of the liquid nicotine used to refill some of these devices can kill a child.  It can also be poisonous in a matter of minutes if spilled on the skin. A child who gets liquid nicotine on his or her skin may vomit, have difficulty breathing or a fast heartbeat, and appear jittery and unsteady. If this happens to someone you know, call the Poison Center Hotline right away at 800-222-1222.

What should people do?  Adults and teens, especially people who are non-smokers, should stay away from e-cigarettes. The chemicals simply have not been proven safe for our lungs and bodies, and e-cigarettes with nicotine can be highly addictive.  Not everyone gets addicted, but nicotine addiction can sneak up on a person over months. 

If smokers who are already addicted to nicotine are thinking about using these devices to try to quit, it’s best to talk to a doctor about proven ways of quitting, even if they have tried quitting before. Many smokers try a number of times to quit before they are successful, so don’t be discouraged!

This article is contributed by Jonina Gorenstein, JTGORENSTEIN@PARTNERS.ORG