You’re at your favorite restaurant, enjoying a meal. A diner at the next table is puffing on a cigarette, letting out a cloud of smoke. Because smoking isn’t allowed in the restaurant, you’re thinking about asking the smoker to put the cigarette out. But before you protest, consider this: Your neighbor may not be smoking at all.
Electronic cigarettes, also known as smokeless cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or e-cigs, are an alternative method of consuming nicotine, the chemical found in tobacco. Manufacturers often design e-cigarettes to look like regular cigarettes, but they contain no tobacco and don’t require a match — or any flame at all.
Electronic cigarettes feature a replaceable inhaler cartridge containing vegetable glycerin and/or polyethylene glycol, flavoring and nicotine. With every inhalation, a sensor triggers a vaporizer to heat a small amount of liquid flavoring. The liquid turns to vapor and is drawn into the user’s mouth.
Vaping is not the same as smoking a water-pipe, or hookah. In a hookah, a burned mixture of tobacco and molasses is drawn through water to cool the smoke. Burning creates cancer-causing chemicals that are inhaled by the smoker.
The vaping technology of e-cigarettes does not burn anything; the liquid mixture is simply vaporized. The vapor does not contain the harmful compounds found in smoke from hookahs or cigarettes.
In theory, since vaping does not burn tobacco, it should be safer than conventional cigarette smoking. A main ingredient in the liquid cartridges, polyethylene glycol, is FDA-approved and is used in many consumer products.
A 2013 study in the journal Tobacco Control found that the harmful chemicals in Electronic cigarettes occurred at levels 9 to 450 times lower than in regular cigarette smoke.