What are e-cigarettes?
Electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes,” are battery-powered devices designed to resemble cigarettes that heat a solution, typically containing nicotine and other additives, which produce a vapor that can be inhaled without combustion. E-cigarettes can include products like vape pens, vaporizers, and e-hookahs. They widely vary in safety, quality, size, and shape. Typically, they have three components: A cartridge containing the solution, a battery or breath-powered heating element, and the battery itself. The device heats the solution into a vapor, which is inhaled.
Marketed as a safe and tobacco-free cigarette alternative in China roughly during 2004, the devices reached American markets a few years later and quickly expanded as a global market. It is now an estimated $3 billion global industry and is generally unregulated. Today, there are an estimated 466 brands and more than 7,700 flavors of solutions, like “bubblegum” and “cherry crush,” with approximately 250 more introduced every month. Companies tend to utilize clever advertising to reach youth, which is evident by the attractive flavors available, as well as create a perception of these products as safe, discreet, physically attractive, novel, and cool to use. For example, companies highlight that one of the items’ benefits is a lack of the bad smell typically associated with cigarette smoke. In addition, young people can find the devices’ colorful and innovative designs to be “cool.”What is in e-cigarettes?
Due to their relative novelty in the United States as well as a lack of regulation, determining what is in e-cigarette solutions can be difficult. Research on these products is currently in early stages. Generally, they are believed to contain varied amounts of nicotine and other additives, such as propylene glycol (a chemical that is safe to consume except in very high amounts) or flavoring.
What else do we (or don’t we) know about them?
E-cigarettes are not tobacco products. As a result, users can avoid inhaling carcinogenic tar that is typically associated with regular cigarettes. However, more research is required to better understand what other chemicals these devices dispense into users’ bodies. While they are thought to be safer than cigarettes, researchers question whether they are safe in general. This issue also exists regarding secondhand chemicals emitted from e-cigarettes, which were found to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes, but existent nonetheless. Further investigation of this topic is necessary as well.
While some scholars support the use of e-cigarettes as a tool for smoking cessation, a major public health concern exists regarding the possibility of the devices as a gateway to nicotine addiction, potentially leading to the use of traditional cigarettes or even other substances. There is also growing popularity in the use of these products for the purposes of smoking marijuana by replacing the e-cigarette cartridges.
Prevention efforts at BHS
Brookline High School Peer Leaders are an active part of The 84 Movement in Massachusetts, which works to protect young people and communities in general from the dangers of cigarette use. As an expansion of this effort, Peer Leaders are active in advocating for laws that would place e-cigarettes in the same category as traditional cigarettes, making it more difficult for underage people to purchase or use them within the community. In addition, leaders will actively engage in other community activities, including the creation of an e-cigarette PSA, informational brochure, and the annual Kick Butts Day, during which young people from around the country will stand up and speak out against Big Tobacco.