Electronic cigarettes: Not a safe way to light up
E-cigarettes are popular alternatives to regular cigarettes, but are they safe?By Mayo Clinic Staff
Electronic cigarettes, often called e-cigarettes, are battery-operated devices that heat a liquid (usually but not always containing nicotine), turning it into a vapor that can be inhaled. Using e-cigarettes is often referred to as vaping.
Electronic cigarettes come in a variety of designs. Some are sold with filled cartridges, while others are designed so that users can add a solution that's purchased separately. The solutions typically contain vegetable glycerin or propylene glycol as the main ingredients, varying amounts of nicotine, flavorings and other additives.
Are e-cigarettes safe?
There's no scientific evidence that using e-cigarettes is safe.
Because e-cigarettes don't burn tobacco, most experts agree that they're likely to cause fewer harmful effects than traditional cigarettes. Most e-cigarette manufacturers claim that their products are a safe alternative to conventional cigarettes. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has questioned the safety of these products.
Researchers have found that some e-cigarettes have nicotine amounts that are very different from what's on the label. In addition, some flavoring agents and other additives have been shown to be toxic.
The long-term health effects of inhaling vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol and other additives are not known. The FDA and many health care organizations, including the American Heart Association, have issued warnings about the health risks of e-cigarettes.
Will e-cigarettes help me quit smoking?
Studies to test whether e-cigarettes can help people stop using tobacco have had inconsistent results. At best, e-cigarettes are no more effective than nicotine replacement medications in helping people quit.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has concluded that the current evidence is insufficient to recommend electronic nicotine delivery systems for tobacco cessation in adults.
If you're looking for help to stop smoking, there are seven FDA-approved medications that have been shown to be safe and effective for this purpose. A combination of medication and counseling has been shown to work best.
Because of the unresolved safety concerns and because the research on e-cigarettes as a stop-smoking aid is inconclusive, Mayo Clinic does not recommend e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking.
If you want to stop smoking, call 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) to connect to your state's quit line or call the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center at 800-344-5984.
June 21, 2016
See more In-depth
- Yamin CK, et al. E-cigarettes: A rapidly growing internet phenomenon. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2010;153:607.
- FDA and public health officials warn about electronic cigarettes. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm173222.htm. Accessed May 16, 2016.
- Drew AM, et al. Electronic cigarettes: Cautions and concerns. American Family Physician. 2014;90:282.
- Vaporizers, e-cigarettes, and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/PublicHealthFocus/ucm172906.htm. Accessed May 16, 2016.
- Hays JT (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 22, 2016.
- Breland A, et al. Electronic cigarettes: What are they and what do they do? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. In press. Accessed May 16, 2016.
- Pisinger C, et al. A systematic review of health effects of electronic cigarettes. Preventive Medicine. 2014;69:248.
- Ebbert JO, et al. Counseling patients on the use of electronic cigarettes. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2015;90:128.
- McRobbie H, et al. Electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation and reduction. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD010216.pub2/full. Accessed May 16, 2016.
- Bhatnagar A, et al. Electronic cigarettes: A policy statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2014;130:1418.
- Siu AL. Behavioral and pharmacotherapy interventions for tobacco smoking cessation in adults, including pregnant women: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2015;163:622.
- Barbara Woodward Lips Patient Education Center. About e-cigarettes. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2014.