Since e-cigarette use has been on rise in the United States over the past few years, we talked to Bill Blatt, National Director of Tobacco Programs for the American Lung Association, about the use of e-cigarettes today. Here’s what he had to say.
What exactly is an e-cigarette?
Blatt: E-cigarettes fall into a category of devices broadly called Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, or ENDS. Those include e-cigarettes (or e-cigs), vape pens, vapes, mods, e-hookah and some others. Traditional cigarettes are sometimes called “combustible cigarettes” because they contain shredded tobacco and other ingredients that are burned. E-cigarettes, however, contain a battery, heating element and a cartridge with some kind of liquid that contains nicotine and a number of chemicals – many of which are harmful to inhale. Users take a draw on the e-cigarette, causing it to signal the battery and fire up the heating element, which then vaporizes some of that liquid for users to inhale. That’s why it's called vaping.
Can people become addicted to e-cigarettes?
Blatt: E-cigarettes are tobacco products, and virtually all e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is the addictive substance in tobacco. E-cigarettes are often flavored, making them appealing to teenagers. Youth addiction to e-cigarettes is something we at the American Lung Association are worried about – and our fears are grounded in the fact that e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among teenagers.
There are more than 7,000 different flavors of e-cigarettes, and most of them are fruit or candy flavors. We believe these are clearly aimed at adolescents. E-cigarette use is more common among adolescents and young adults than it is among adults. We're alarmed that studies are showing that adolescents who use e-cigarettes are becoming addicted and many are starting to smoke traditional cigarettes as well. Evidence suggests that e-cigarette use is strongly associated with other tobacco use, especially cigarettes.
Can e-cigarettes help someone quit smoking traditional cigarettes?
Blatt: First, it’s important to recognize that no e-cigarette has been found by the FDA to be safe or effective in helping tobacco users quit. Additionally, a 2016 report from the US Department of health has found that e-cigarette aerosol is also not harmless. It can contain harmful and potentially harmful constituents including nicotine. Exposure to nicotine during adolescence can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain.
Some people will cut down on their combustible cigarette use by adding another tobacco product, like e-cigarettes. This is called “dual use.” It is not an effective way to safeguard your health – quitting smoking completely is one of the most important things you can do for your health. And Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that over half of all adult e-cigarette users over the age of 25 are also current cigarette smokers. This means they are still being exposed to the harmful effects of cigarettes as well as the chemicals found in e-cigarettes.
Folks should work with their healthcare provider to develop a plan to help them quit tobacco products, from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes.
What methods do the American Lung Association recommend people use to quit smoking traditional cigarettes?
Blatt: There are many ways to quit smoking. The three-link-chain of addiction model says that there are physical, mental, and social aspects to a person's addiction. We think utilizing one of the seven FDA-approved medications for smoking cessation, along with a behavioral support program that teaches skills to break the addiction, and social support from friends and family, can help quitters transition to being entirely tobacco-free.