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Dangers of electronic cigarettes

Devices pose same dangers, particularly to youth, just in different packaging

E-cigarettes may be promoted as a safe way to quit smoking, but don’t be fooled: they are not harmless.

Battery-operated e-cigarettes are devices that heat and aerosolize liquid containing nicotine and other toxic chemicals, with candy-like flavorings. They may look like regular cigarettes, pens, or markers, or have other designs.

E-cigarettes give off tiny particles that can lodge in the lungs and cause disease. These particles can reach concentration almost as high as tobacco smoke in Lexington prior to levels when local government enacted a smoking law.

E-cigarettes are not an approved method for quitting smoking. Studies show that e-smokers are no more likely to quit than regular smokers. There is limited benefit to using e-cigarettes to cut down on smoking, since just one to four cigarettes a day increases the risk of dying from heart disease and other illnesses.

Within minutes of smoking an e-cigarette, a person’s lungs can be harmed similar to the damage done by tobacco smoke. Nicotine causes airways to become inflamed. The aerosol is not simply water vapor—it contains harmful chemicals and particles that are irritants and cause cancer and heart disease.

People exposed to secondhand aerosol from e-cigarettes breathe these chemicals and particles, threatening their health.

High nicotine levels in e-cigarette fluids can be deadly. The devices do not have child-protective packaging and many e-cigarette liquids look like eye drop bottles. Nicotine is absorbed by touching or swallowing the liquid. In fact, Kentucky has seen a 333 percent increase in calls to poison control centers from e-cigarettes.

Studies show that one of every 10 youth has tried e-cigarettes, attracted by the glamorous marketing strategies and flavorings. Youth who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke regular cigarettes. In Kentucky, minors cannot purchase, use, or possess e-cigarettes.

There are no regulations on the manufacture of these devices, and nicotine levels listed on their package labels may not be accurate. Though the Food and Drug Administration considers them a tobacco product, consumers are not protected. For these reasons, there is no way to know what e-cigarette smokers are breathing in or putting into the air for others to breathe.

E-cigarettes should be regulated like tobacco smoking. This is critical to protect individual and public health and prevent the next generation from nicotine addiction.

For more information on e-cigarettes, go to and click on Fact Sheets/Emerging Products.

10 facts parents should know about e-cigarettes
• They may not look like cigarettes.
• Teenagers may refer to them by a different name.
• They are marketed to teens.
• Students use them in schools.
• They may lead to conventional cigarette use.
• They may be modified for using other drugs.
• Their labels can be misleading.
• They currently are not regulated.
• They pose safety concerns for the home, teens who use them, and others breathing the aerosol.
• More and more teens are using them.

Ellen J. Hahn, Audrey Darville, and Janie Heath for the January 2015 issue

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