What Do We Know About E-cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are a form of electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS). They are small battery-operated devices that sometimes look like conventional cigarettes and have both a heating element and a place for a liquid solution sold for use with e-cigarettes.  When the smoker inhales, the system heats the liquid and changes it into very small droplets (vapor) of chemicals and flavorings. Some e-cigarettes are disposable and some are refillable.  Many e-cigarettes are used with liquid mixtures that also include the addictive drug nicotine.  

ENDS do not burn tobacco and consequently contain fewer toxic and cancer-causing chemicals than cigarettes. Based on the most recent studies, e-cigarettes are, in general, substantially less harmful than smoking cigarettes. But long-term health effects are still unclear.

The e-cigarette boom has led to sales of a variety of types of ENDS designed to mimic other types of smoking by using vaporized liquids. They look like cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or even pens or USB memory sticks.

  • Electronic cigars (e-cigars) look like large cigars, right down to the glowing tip partly covered by fake ash. Unlike e-cigarettes, e-cigars are often wrapped with a real tobacco leaf and are disposable, rather than refillable.
  • Colorful “vape pens” or “e-hookahs” vaporize nicotine solutions often flavored like fruit and candy, which appeals to youth.

To learn more about e-cigarettes, see the American Cancer Society Position Statement on Electronic Cigarettes.

To learn more about tobacco and health issues, see Tobacco and Cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Drope J, Cahn, Z, Kennedy R, et al.  Key issues surrounding the health impacts of electronic nicotene delivery systems (ENDS) and other sources of nicotene. CA Cancer J Clin.  2017; 67:449-471.

Last Medical Review: March 6, 2018 Last Revised: March 6, 2018

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