Vining: What's an Electronic Cigarette?

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By: Sharon Vining, RN, BSN, OCN

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Few will disagree that cigarette smoking is a carcinogen and bad for your health.  But for those who refuse to stop smoking or unable to quit, what is the alternative?

The electronic cigarette in use today was developed by a Chinese pharmacist and introduced to the Chinese market in 2004.  It first came to the United States in 2007.  E-cigarettes as they have come to be called give the feel and appearance of smoking a real cigarette.  There are several differences.  E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco.  Instead they contain liquid nicotine.  E-cigarettes are battery operated devices which have a vapor chamber and a cartridge filled with liquid nicotine.  By puffing on the device just like you would a regular cigarette, the liquid nicotine heats up and you inhale nicotine into your lungs.   An odorless water vapor is then exhaled.

E-cigarettes manufactures do not exactly claim their devices are safe. Instead, they tout the benefits of using e-cigarettes compared tobacco. Many regulatory and health agencies are not so sure.  Health experts are concerned about the possible effects of inhaling pure nicotine.  The FDA is concerned about quality control. They claim some manufacturers may not be adequately disclosing all the chemicals in their e-cigarettes or the amount of nicotine listed may not actually be the amount in the cartridge.

Of some concern is electronic cigarettes are sold internationally and can be purchased online.  Although e-cigarettes manufacturers do not directly market their products to children, the nicotine cartridges come in a wide range of flavors such as bubble gum, chocolate, caramel and strawberry.  Additionally, celebrities influence young people.  Katherine Heigl, star of “Grey’s Anatomy” while on the David Letterman show, not only smoked one, but explained to the audience how it worked.  Johnny Depp used one in the film “The Tourist”.

Electronic cigarettes are not exactly cheap.  The starter kit costs range from $60 to $150.  A package of five cartridges which is equal to a pack of cigarettes costs about $10.  A smoker can save money by buying the liquid nicotine in bulk.

Currently, the FDA is trying to have e-cigarettes labeled as drug-delivery devices so they can be regulated.  Manufacturers argue the devices are simply recreational and should not be regulated by the FDA.

Manufactures sometimes market e-cigarettes as a devices you can smoke anywhere because they present to health risk because they do not emit secondhand smoke.  Some health experts say e-cigarettes have not been adequately tested so the health risks are unknown.

Australia, Canada, Israel and Mexico have banned e-cigarettes altogether.  Other countries are considering legislation.

Sharon R Vining, RN BSN OCN has been a registered nurse since 1991. She graduated from Paris Junior College in Paris, Texas with an Associate Nursing Degree and received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. Sharon spent 14 years in Critical Care, six years in Stem Cell Transplant, and is currently in Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery as a clinical nurse at a large cancer hospital in Houston, Texas. She is a member of the AACN and ONS and is OCN certified.


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