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Learning About Electronic Cigarettes

What are electronic cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that turn liquid chemicals into a vapour and then an aerosol that you inhale. Electronic cigarettes may or may not have nicotine.

These cigarettes are often called e-cigarettes. Using an e-cigarette is also called vaping.

Many e-cigarettes are made to look like real cigarettes. Some have a light at the end that glows when you inhale. Newer types even look like pens, phones, car fobs, and flash drives.

Some people use e-cigarettes to try to quit smoking. E-cigarettes may help satisfy nicotine cravings for adults.

How do e-cigarettes work?

E-cigarettes have three main parts:

  • The mouthpiece. It has a cartridge that holds liquid (often called e-liquid or e-juice). Some also contain a flavour.
  • A heating element. It turns the liquid into a vapour which turns into an aerosol that you breathe in.
  • A battery. It provides power to the heating element.

A chemical in the vapour turns it white. This makes it look like smoke.

Electronic cigars and pipes are also available.

Are e-cigarettes safe?

More research is needed before we know if e-cigarettes are safe for people to use. The long-term health effects of using them are not known. What we do know about e-cigarettes is:

  • They use harmful chemicals. These are inhaled by the user and may also be inhaled by those nearby.
  • When heated, these chemicals may form new chemicals that may affect your health.
  • They may have nicotine, even if the packaging doesn't say it does. Nicotine is addictive and affects how the brain develops and works in youth and young adults. Youth and young adults also are more likely to get addicted to nicotine compared to older adults.
  • Propylene glycol and other chemicals that add flavour may not be safe to vapourize and inhale as an aerosol into the lungs. Some research shows that added flavours used in e-cigarette liquid can cause lung problems.
  • The chemicals in e-cigarette liquid can change how the brain develops during pregnancy, childhood, and the teenage years.
  • Heating the e-cigarette liquid can put you in contact with harmful metals from the e-cigarette.
  • You shouldn’t use vaping products if you're young, pregnant, or don't smoke cigarettes or other tobacco products.

Can e-cigarettes help you stop smoking?

If you are thinking about using e-cigarettes to help you quit smoking, talk to your doctor first.

Some early research shows that using e-cigarettes may help some people quit smoking. But we still don't know how helpful they are and more research is needed.

E-cigarette cartridges come with different levels of nicotine. Some people try to lower the nicotine levels over time. But it is not known if this is a healthy or effective way to control nicotine amounts. Using e-cigarettes may keep your addiction to nicotine active. This could make it harder to quit. And there is some concern that the use of these by new users could lead to use of other tobacco products, such as leaf tobacco cigarettes.

Health Canada says:

  • There are lower health risks when you completely switch from smoking cigarettes to using e-cigarettes.
  • Switching from smoking to e-cigarettes will lower the amount of harmful chemicals that you have contact with.
If you use e-cigarettes to quit smoking, it’s best to have a plan to quit using them at some point too. Talk to your doctor about ways to help you quit smoking or using e-cigarettes. This may include:
  • counselling
  • over-the-counter products approved by Health Canada, like nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, or an inhaler
  • prescription medicines
Over-the-counter products and prescription medicines to help you stop smoking are safe. Research has shown they can help people stop smoking and using tobacco products, or use them less.

Where can you learn more?

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