Vaping devices are battery-operated devices that people use to inhale an aerosol, which typically contains nicotine (though not always), flavorings, and other chemicals. They can resemble traditional tobacco cigarettes (cig-a-likes), cigars, or pipes, or even everyday items like pens or USB memory sticks. Other devices, such as those with fillable tanks, may look different. Regardless of their design and appearance, these devices generally operate in a similar manner and are made of similar components. More than 460 different e-cigarette brands are currently on the market.1
Some e-cigarettes are made to look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some resemble pens, USB sticks, and other everyday items.
Vaping devices are popular among teens and are now the most commonly used form of nicotine among youth in the United States. Some research shows that many teens do not even realize that vaping cartridges contain nicotine, and assume the pods contain only flavoring. The easy availability of these devices, alluring advertisements, various e-liquid flavors, and the belief that they’re safer than cigarettes have helped make them appealing to this age group. In addition, they are easy to hide from teachers and parents because they do not leave behind the stench of tobacco cigarettes, and are often disguised as flash drives. Further, a study of high school students found that one in four teens reported using e-cigarettes for dripping, a practice in which people produce and inhale vapors by placing e-liquid drops directly onto heated atomizer coils. Teens reported the following reasons for dripping: to create thicker vapor (63.5 percent), to improve flavors (38.7 percent), and to produce a stronger throat hit—a pleasurable feeling that the vapor creates when it causes the throat to contract (27.7 percent).2 More research is needed on the risks of this practice.
In addition to the unknown health effects, early evidence suggests that vaping might serve as an introductory product for preteens and teens who then go on to use other nicotine products, including cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and premature death. A study showed that students who had used e-cigarettes by the time they started 9th grade were more likely than others to start smoking cigarettes and other smokable tobacco products within the next year.3 Another study supports these findings, showing that high school students who used e-cigarettes in the last month were about 7 times more likely to report that they smoked cigarettes when asked approximately 6 months later, as compared to students who said they didn’t use e-cigarettes. Notably, the reverse was not true—students who said they smoked cigarettes were no more likely to report use of e-cigarettes when asked approximately 6 months later. Like the previous study, these results suggest that teens using e-cigarettes are at a greater risk for smoking cigarettes in the future.4 Another study has shown an association between e-cigarette smoking and progression to smoking actual cigarettes.5 This study suggests that vaping nicotine might actually encourage cigarette smoking in adolescents.
Additionally, a study of adult smokers in Europe found those who vaped nicotine were less like to have stopped smoking than those who did not. Those who used e-cigarettes also smoked more cigarettes than those who didn’t.6 In another study of more than 800 people who said they vaped to help them quit traditional cigarette smoking, only nine percent reported having quit when asked a year later.7 However, more research is still needed to understand if experimenting with e-cigarettes leads to regular use of smokable tobacco.
Under U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations designed to protect the health of young Americans, minors can no longer buy e-cigarettes in stores or online (see “Government Regulation of E-cigarettes”). The FDA now regulates the manufacture, import, packaging, labeling, advertising, promotion, sale, and distribution of e-cigarettes. This includes components and parts of e-cigarettes but excludes accessories.8