What are e-cigarettes?
Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are battery powered devices, which have a cartridge containing a liquid. This liquid usually contains nicotine - an addictive drug found in regular cigarettes and other tobacco products - as well as flavourings and other chemicals. The liquid is heated, creating an aerosol (smoke) that the user inhales. This is known as vaping.
E-cigarettes are known by many different names including e-cigs, vapes and vape pens. There are many different types of e-cigarette.
What is an e-cigarette aerosol?
The e-cigarette aerosol that people breathe in can contain harmful substances. In some cases, it is hard to know exactly what they contain because e-cigarettes are not regulated in the same way as drugs and medical devices. Some e-cigarettes have been found to contain nicotine despite claiming not to contain the drug. Some e-cigarettes for sale in Ireland have also been found to contain more nicotine than advertised on their packaging.
What substances can be found in vapes?
These can include:
- Volatile organic compounds (usually human-made chemicals that are used and produced in the making of pharmaceuticals)
- Ultrafine particles
- Cancer-causing chemicals
- Heavy metals such as tin and lead
- Flavourings such as diacetyl - a chemical linked to serious lung disease
What do e-cigarettes look like?
Some e-cigarettes are made to look like regular cigarettes, cigars or pipes. Some look like pens or USB sticks, while others have a tank-style shape with a mouthpiece. The most common types available in Ireland are:
- Disposable vapes: These are bought fully charged and are already filled with liquid. They cannot be recharged or refilled and cannot be used once the battery and liquid have been used up. These have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially among younger people
- Modifiable tanks: These vapes can be recharged and used multiple times. The battery power can be increased or decreased using controls on the device. These controls tell the vape to make more or less aerosol
Are e-cigarettes safe?
While short-term evidence suggests that e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes, more evidence is needed to assess the long-term risk.
While we cannot categorically say that e-cigarette use increases the risk of cancer, they may cause other health issues such as lung inflammation and DNA damage in the lungs. These products can also alter vital signs like blood pressure and heart rate.
A 2020 review published by the American Association for Cancer Research suggests that using e-cigarettes causes significantly less harm to the body than smoking tobacco, but may still pose serious health risks. The nicotine in e-cigarettes may lead to DNA changes that promote cancer and tumour formation. These products may also contain toxic substances, such as formaldehyde, which may be carcinogenic (cancer causing).
What do I need to know about nicotine?
Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and leads to dependence. Nicotine can also train the brain to become more easily addicted to other drugs like cocaine.
Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to the effects of nicotine because their brains are still developing. Children and young people who vape are more likely to become addicted to nicotine, develop mood disorders and find it hard to control their impulses.
There can be many physical side-effects of nicotine. If you vape you may experience any combination of:
- Cold, clammy skin
- A rapid pulse
- Increased sweating
You may also experience nicotine withdrawal when you stop vaping. Common symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Anger, frustration and irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling tired or groggy
- Trouble sleeping
Can e-cigarettes harm my general health?
Early evidence has linked e-cigarettes to lung tissue damage, cardiovascular issues and an increased risk of asthma attacks. E-cigarettes can contain substances that include tiny particles that reach deep into the lungs, as well as chemicals that are known to cause cancer.
Children and young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to start smoking regular cigarettes compared to those who never used e-cigarettes. Children and adults have also been poisoned by swallowing, breathing or absorbing e-cigarette liquid. E-cigarettes have also been linked to other unintended injuries. For example, there have been reports of e-cigarette batteries causing fires and explosions.
Is the use of e-cigarettes an effective method for quitting smoking?
The Irish Cancer Society does not recommend using e-cigarettes as a stop-smoking aid. We believe that using evidence-based methods remains the safest and most reliable way of giving up smoking. E-cigarettes have been shown to be potentially harmful to health. And they are not as effective as recommended evidence-based quitting methods, such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and smoking cessation medicines. These smoking cessation methods are safe and have been shown to work successfully.
The HSE provides stop-smoking services which are free to use and are easily accessible nationwide. These services can also help people who want to stop vaping. Visit: www.quit.ie or call 1800 201 203 for more details.
Are you worried about your child vaping?
The number of children and teenagers vaping has been increasing in recent years. Young people are more vulnerable to the effects of nicotine because their brains are still developing.
If you are worried about your child vaping, you can contact the HSE's QUIT service. Visit: www.quit.ie or call 1800 201 203 for more details.
For more information
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