What is an e-cigarette? Definition and examples

An e-cigarette or electronic cigarette is a device that emits vaporized solutions, i.e., in aerosol form, which are inhaled. The device, which is battery operated, is most commonly used by former regular tobacco smokers as an alternative nicotine delivery system. Many ex-tobacco smokers also use them because they are less damaging for the health (than tobacco cigarettes). E-cigs simulate the experience of smoking a traditional cigarette, but without the smoke.

e-cigarette image 4939493949We call the solution that users inhale e-juice or e-liquid. Some e-juices have nicotine in them while others don’t.

People may also refer to e-cigarettes as:

  • Vape pens
  • Vapes
  • ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems)
  • C-cigs
  • E-hookahs
  • Mods
  • E-pipes

The British National Health Service says the following about ecigs:

“An e-cigarette is a device that allows you to inhale nicotine in a vapor rather than smoke. E-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco and don’t produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most damaging constituents in cigarette smoke.”

“E-cigarettes work by heating a solution (e-liquid) that typically contains nicotine, propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerin, and flavorings.”

Vaping – to vape

We refer to the action of inhaling vapor from an e-cig as vaping. The verb is to vape. Just like we say: “Do you smoke,” for tobacco cigarettes, we can say: “Do you vape?” for e-cigarettes.

We use the term because e-cigs produce a vapor or aerosol rather than smoke.

Helpful for tobacco smokers

Many tobacco smokers find that vaping is an effective way to stop smoking. It is healthier to abstain from any type of smoking or vaping. However, e-cigs are significantly less harmful than smoking as far as human health is concerned.

Some studies have shown that vaping is an effective way to give up smoking. A major trial in the United Kingdom found that e-cigarettes are twice as effective as nicotine patches, gum, and other nicotine replacement products.

Cancer Research UK says the following regarding the dangers of tobacco smoking vs. vaping:

“Evidence so far indicates that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking as they don’t contain tobacco or involve combustion. There is no smoke, tar or carbon monoxide, and studies looking at key toxicants have generally found much lower levels than in cigarettes.”

“They do contain nicotine, which is addictive, but isn’t responsible for the major health harms from smoking.”

How does an e-cigarette work?

Components of an E-Cigarette image 4939493949394E-cigs have the following main components:

  • A reservoir, pod or cartridge. This component holds the e-liquid, which may or may not contain nicotine. There are dozens of different flavors available today.
  • An atomizer. This is the heating element that turns the e-liquid into an aerosol that the user inhales.
  • A battery.
  • A mouthpiece. The user sucks on the mouthpiece as they would the end of a cigarette.

The user needs to press a button for the device to release the aerosol, or simply puff, which activates the battery.

E-cigarette concern

In the United States, an alarming number of young vapers are suffering from serious lung disease, which healthcare professionals call EVALI or E-cigarette Vaping, Product Use-Associated Lung Injury

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

“As of January 21, 2020, a total of 2,711 hospitalized EVALI cases or deaths have been reported to CDC from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands). Sixty deaths have been confirmed in 27 states and the District of Columbia.”

Studies suggest that e-juices containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are causing most of the EVALI cases. Devices from informal or illicit sources may also be culprits.

THC is a susbstance found in marijuana that is responsible for its psychoactive effect, i.e., it is what makes people feel high or stoned.

Regarding the link between lung disease and THC in vaping products, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the following:

“A majority of the samples tested by the states or by the FDA related to this investigation have been identified as vaping products containing THC. Through this investigation, we have also found most of the patients impacted by these illnesses reported using THC-containing products, suggesting THC vaping products play a role in the outbreak.”

The FDA urges vapers not to use products that contain THC. It also warns against purchasing devices or e-juices off the street or from other social or illegal sources.

Targeting children

Some studies suggest that vaping companies have targeted young adults and teenagers with cartoon marketing. In the United States and many other countries, there are strict regulations regarding the use of cartoons for marketing tobacco products. However, this is not the case for e-cigarette marketing.