Electronic cigarettes, known as e-cigarettes, contain cancer-causing chemicals and other toxins, including a compound used in antifreeze, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns.
Touted by manufacturers as "the smoker's smart choice," e-cigarettes are clearly being marketed to young smokers and would-be smokers and are easy to buy online and in many shopping malls. The battery-operated devices use cartridges filled with nicotine (which is highly addictive), flavorings (such as chocolate, bubblegum, apple, mint, and vanilla), and other chemicals and convert them into a vapor that's inhaled by the user.
The FDA analyzed the ingredients in cartridges from two leading brands of e-cigarettes (which are made outside the United States, most often in China). The agency found diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical used in antifreeze, in one sample and carcinogens, including nitrosamines, in others.
Because they haven't been submitted to the FDA for evaluation or approval, e-cigarettes do not have to post the health warnings that nicotine replacement products or conventional cigarettes do. The FDA would like to block U.S. sales of e-cigarettes, of course, but manufacturers are arguing in court that the agency doesn't have regulatory authority over their devices. Until it does, the FDA is taking its warnings public, saying that it's not possible to know "the levels of nicotine or the amounts or kinds of other chemicals that the various brands of these products deliver to the user."
What This Means to You
In the same way that smokeless tobacco products might seem safer than regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes can appeal to young smokers as a harmless way to indulge in a vice still seen as cool by many kids and teens. But there's no such thing as a safe nicotine product.
Make sure to add e-cigarettes to the list of no-no's whenever you talk to your kids about the dangers of smoking and using tobacco products. And if your child is trying to quit, make sure he or she knows that e-cigarettes are not a safe alternative, or even a good way to step down from nicotine addiction.
Instead, urge your child to kick the habit by using these safe, reliable tactics:
- using a nicotine gum or a patch (after talking to a doctor first)
- using substitutes such as sugarless gum, hard candy, carrot sticks, mints, toothpicks, or even lollipops
- getting involved in healthier activities: lifting weights, shooting baskets, going for a swim, etc.
And remember: You're the most important role model of all for your kids. So if you smoke, it's time to quit — without a hazardous nicotine crutch like e-cigarettes.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2009