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Am Fam Physician. 2019;100(10):600-601

Original Article: Electronic Cigarettes: Common Questions and Answers

Issue Date: August 15, 2019

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To the Editor: Because we provide care to thousands of adults and youth with nicotine dependence annually, we appreciate the excellent overview article on electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). The article contains excellent references for helpful terms when screening for and talking about e-cigarette use. Although there are likely benefits of e-cigarettes in assisting patients with quitting regular cigarettes, it is increasingly certain that vaping can be harmful.

Millions of e-cigarette users face potential exposure to toxins. For instance, as of October 15, 2019, there were 1,479 cases of severe pulmonary disease associated with vaping reported in adolescents and young adults in 49 states (all except Alaska), the District of Columbia, and one U.S. territory (USVI), and 33 deaths.1 In response to these cases, Michigan has enacted policy to prohibit the sale of flavored e-cigarette products and Massachusetts banned all e-cigarettes for a four-month period. Symptoms have included dyspnea, fatigue, chest pain, cough, and weight loss that worsened days or weeks before hospitalization. Imaging studies demonstrated bilateral opacities on chest radiography and diffuse ground-glass opacities on computed tomography. Recent case studies have highlighted eosinophilic pneumonia in e-cigarette users,2,3 and an observational study found increased rates of bronchitis in adolescent e-cigarette users.4 These cases have involved traditional e-cigarette use and vaping of multiple substances, including nicotine, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), synthetic cannabinoids, and combinations of these substances.5

Clinicians need to ask patients about their use of traditional e-cigarettes, but also about their use of emerging vaping products, devices, liquids, refill pods, and cartridges. Clinicians should also report cases of significant respiratory illness of uncertain etiology in patients with a history of vaping to state and local health departments.

Although e-cigarettes are marketed as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, far more longitudinal research is needed to examine e-cigarettes and their ingredients, including high nicotine content and flavoring; exposure to metals; combination use with other substances; and chronic use influence pulmonary toxicity.6 In the meantime, clinicians should discuss adverse pulmonary toxicity with both traditional cigarette users and e-cigarette users.

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This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, deputy editor.

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