FAQs about Electronic Cigarettes

Blog Post created by Dr.Hays on May 15, 2015

As we field questions on a daily basis about electronic cigarettes, vape pens, vapor systems, etc. from our patients at the Mayo Clinic, I’d like to share our current knowledge of these devices with the Ex community and what we recommend at the Nicotine Dependence Center.   

What are E-cigarettes?

This question is not as easy to answer as one might think.  There are more than 450 devices that are called e-cigarettes, and more than 7500 different solutions that have been developed to be vaporized in these battery-powered products.  However, e-cigarettes do have a few things in common.  They all have a heating element, a cartridge or tank to hold a liquid solution that can be heated and vaporized, and they are all designed to allow a user to puff and inhale the vapor.  As e-cigarettes are designed to mimic the experience of smoking, it is understandable why some are experimenting or becoming daily users.


In fact, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of e-cigarette devices.  Between 2010 and 2013 the percentage of adults who report trying an e-cigarette has jumped from 2.7% to 12.3%.  Among high-school students, an alarming 13.4% report that they currently use e-cigarettes.  This is an increase from 1.1% in 2011.  The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 2.4 million middle and high school students use e-cigarettes.  It is not clear at this time if the use of e-cigarettes by young people will reverse the important progress that has occurred during the past 15 years in preventing young people from starting to smoke.

Are they safe?

Safety concerns about e-cigarettes are brought up almost daily byour patients at the Mayo Clinic.  While e-cigarettes are likely less harmful than cigarettes, there is debate on exactly how ‘safe’ they are.  Currently there are no standard manufacturing processes or FDA regulation of these products.  Short-term research available shows some flavorings and solutions have been found to contain various toxins.  Propylene glycol, the main solvent and ingredient responsible for creating the vapor, has minimal research on its long-term effects when vaporized and inhaled. 

Do they help people quit?

Research to date has not found that the e-cigarettes are any more effective in helping people stop smoking than the nicotine patch, a nicotine replacement product that has been proven to be safe and effective.  Other studies have found some people become “dual users” in that they vape in places in which they cannot smoke but continue to be daily tobacco cigarettes users. The bottom line—there is no reliable evidence to support the use of e-cigarettes as an effective smoking cessation aid.

What do you recommend?

Many healthcare organizations embrace a concept known as integrative medicine - combining complementary treatments with best practice, evidenced based care – as long as it is considered to be safe.  As e-cigarettes have not been thoroughly researched and new studies continue to reinforce a cautionary approach, we do not recommend them to our patients.  The most effective treatment option is behavioral counseling and medication used in combination. .  You can learn more about these research-based strategies here at BecomeAnEx and from the Mayo Clinic