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Researchers Explore Health Effects of E-Cigarettes

HHS agencies support research to determine health effects of the increasingly popular use of e-cigarettes, also known as “vaping.”

It’s not uncommon these days to see people using electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in restaurants, bars and parks, all while huge plumes of aerosol swirl around them. Also known as “vaping,” the use of these  hand-held devices has become common, and some teenagers, according to the CDC and FDA, are their biggest fans: More than 2 million middle and high school students use the products, which come in assorted flavors and forms, from devices that resemble regular cigarettes to those that resemble pens or flash drives.

According to preliminary data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, the number of high-school age children reporting use of e-cigarettes rose by more than 75 percent from 2017 to 2018; and use among middle-school children increased nearly 50 percent. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, HHS Secretary Alex Azar and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called this an epidemic.

E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among youth in the United States. Given their popularity, health officials see the fast-growing use of e-cigarettes as cause for concern among youth. E-cigarettes come with a small battery that heats a liquid that may contain nicotine, transforming it into an inhalable aerosol. Most liquids also feature flavors, including some kid-friendly flavors like bubblegum, gummy bear, and cotton candy, which can broaden their appeal to youth. 

Yet, while e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular combustible tobacco products—and a possible pathway to tobacco-smoking cessation for adults—the evidence on the effectiveness of these products for helping adult smokers quit completely is still uncertain. Additionally, questions remain about the long-term health impact of e-cigarettes, including respiratory outcomes.  Smoking tobacco, for example, can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.  However, it’s uncertain what impact e-cigarette aerosol exposure may have on respiratory health.

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