Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2019;100(3):online

See related article on electronic cigarettes

What are e-cigarettes?

e-Cigarettes are electronic (battery powered) devices that heat a liquid to produce a smoke-like vapor. They often contain nicotine. Nicotine is the ingredient in regular cigarettes that makes them so addictive. Some people use e-cigarettes instead of regular cigarettes, because e-cigarettes don't smell like smoke or they think e-cigarettes are safer. Many people call using an e-cigarette “vaping.”

What are Juuls?

There are many different types and brands of e-cigarettes. Right now, Juul is the most commonly used brand. Juuls are small rectangles that look like a thumb drive. They can be easily recharged. Juuls use a cartridge, or holder, that can be thrown away. These cartridges can be bought in packs and have different flavors and amounts of nicotine. Teenagers may especially like the flavors.

Are e-cigarettes safe?

No. Although e-cigarettes are likely safer than regular cigarettes, this does not make them completely safe. Nicotine is very addictive. There are chemicals in e-cigarettes, especially in the flavors, that can cause cancer. The liquid in e-cigarettes can be poisonous if spilled on skin and is very dangerous if swallowed. This puts young children at risk if e-cigarettes are not used carefully or stored safely. e-cigarettes can also explode, causing burns or other serious injuries.

Should I talk to my teenager about e-cigarettes?

Yes. E-cigarettes have become more popular than regular cigarettes among teenagers. It may help to ask your teenager if he or she has heard of or tried vaping or Juuls. Using e-cigarettes can lead to regular smoking in teenagers who have never smoked. It is also possible to add marijuana to an e-cigarette device.

Help your child understand that using e-cigarettes may lead to a lifelong, expensive habit that can cause problems with their brain, learning, and mood.

It may be helpful to note that many of the companies that make e-cigarettes are owned by regular cigarette companies. Those companies may benefit if teenagers become addicted to nicotine and then start smoking regular cigarettes.

Can e-cigarettes help me quit smoking?

The safest way to quit smoking is to use one of the methods that have been proven safe and effective, like nicotine gum, lozenges, and patches. Your doctor can help you pick the best method for you.

If you are already using e-cigarettes or do not want to use another method to quit, try switching completely to e-cigarettes. Then, you can eventually lower your use of e-cigarettes until you can quit using all nicotine products.

Are e-cigarettes safe to use during pregnancy?

No. Nicotine can harm fetuses (babies before they are born). The other chemicals in e-cigarettes may also be harmful. You should not use cigarettes or e-cigarettes during pregnancy. If you are pregnant and using cigarettes or e-cigarettes, talk to your doctor about the best way to quit.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Surgeon General

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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