The controversy over electronic cigarettes rages on. Are these battery-operated inhalers an effective way to combat nicotine addiction – or do they simply perpetuate it?  The devices, which lack the toxic tar of conventional cigarettes, have polarized both the public health and general communities.

Indeed, some researchers view that these gadgets as a welcome innovation that could render cigarettes obsolete, while others argue that they may erase any inroads made on smoking reduction, and provide a gateway to the deadly habit for youngsters. Hot Debate Over E-Cigarettes

The overall health implications of e-cigs are controversial as well, with research about them still evolving.  Scientic uncertainties have only heightened the public health fight, with critics pointing to possible harm from e-cig’s second-hand vapor and the effects of the chemicals contained in the cartridges.  Other critics contend that e-cigarettes may lead young people to try other tobacco products known to cause disease and premature death.

In recent news, the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban the use of electronic cigarettes from restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other public spaces – joining a cities including New York, Boston and Chicago that restrict the use of the devices. Cities Ban E-Cigarettes

In the meantime, here are some e-cigarette basics: 5 Things to Know About E-Cigarettes

What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are battery operated nicotine inhalers that consist of a rechargeable lithium battery, a cartridge called a cartomizer and an LED that lights up at the end when you puff on the e-cigarette to simulate the burn of a tobacco cigarette. The cartomizer is filled with an e-liquid that usually contains propylene glycol along with nicotine, flavoring, water and other additives – the safety of which are in question.

What is vaping?

Vaping is the term for puffing on an e-cig – a heating element boils the e-liquid until it produces a vapor. The device creates the same amount of vapor no matter how hard you puff – until the battery or e-liquid runs down.

What are the costs?

Starter kits are typically between $30 and $100 and replacement cartridges are about $600 each. Comparatively, it costs more than $1,000 a year to support a pack-a-day tobacco cigarette habit, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.

What are the health risks of e-cigarettes/vaping?

This is still unclear, as the practice of vaping is so new – and because e-cigarettes remain unregulated, it’s very difficult to draw conclusions.

What concerns does FDA have regarding electronic cigarettes? 

The FDA has not evaluated e-cigarettes for safety or effectiveness. When the FDA conducted limited laboratory studies of certain samples, it found quality issues that indicate that quality control processes used to manufacture these products are substandard or non-existent. Additionally, the FDA found that cartridges labeled as containing no nicotine did indeed contain nicotine, and that three different electronic cigarette cartridges with the same label emitted different amount of nicotine with each puff.

Would it be possible for an electronic cigarette to receive FDA approval?

Yes. FDA issued a letter to the Electronic Cigarette Association inviting electronic cigarette firms to work in cooperation with the agency toward the goal of assuring that electronic cigarettes sold in the United States are lawfully marketed.  The agency intends to regulate electronic cigarettes and related products in a manner consistent with its mission of protecting the public health.

What products should people who want to quit smoking use?

There are a number of FDA-approved smoking cessation aids, including nicotine gum, nicotine skin patches, nicotine lozenges, nicotine oral inhaled products, and nicotine nasal spray that are available for smokers

Despite the rhetoric, the basic questions remain. Does the vapor contain toxic substances? Can one get cancer from smoking them? What does nicotine do if received secondhand through vapor?

In the meantime, free help is available to all smokers who want to quit at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or by visiting www.smokefree.gov.

For more information on e-cigarettes visit, www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/PublicHealthFocus/ucm172906.htm

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