Drugs & Health Blog

E-Cigs Are Risky—Whatever They Look Like

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The NIDA Blog Team

Update (January 2020): Government Regulation of E-cigarettes

In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established a rule for e-cigarettes and their liquid solutions. Because e-cigarettes contain nicotine derived from tobacco, they are now subject to government regulation as tobacco products. In December 2019, the federal government raised the legal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years, and in January 2020, the FDA issued a policy on the sale of flavored vaping cartridges. 

Update (November 2019): Reports of Deaths Related to Vaping

The FDA has alerted the public to thousands of reports of serious lung illnesses associated with vaping, including dozens of deaths. They’re working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to investigate the cause of these illnesses. Many of the suspect products tested by the states or federal health officials have been identified as vaping products containing THC, the main psychotropic (mind-altering) ingredient in marijuana. Some of the patients reported vaping a mixture of THC and nicotine; and some reported vaping nicotine alone. (For more details, read this blog post.) While the CDC and FDA continue to investigate possible other contributing substances, CDC has identified a thickening agent—Vitamin E acetate—as a chemical of concern among people with e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injuries. They recommend that people should not use any product containing Vitamin E acetate, or any vaping products containing THC, particularly from informal sources like friends, family, or in-person and online dealers. They also warn against modifying any products purchased in stores, or using any vaping products bought on the street. The FDA is asking people, including health professionals, to report any adverse (negative) effects of vaping products. The CDC has posted an information page for consumers.

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You may have heard of JUUL. It’s one brand of vaping device (or e-cigarette) that has gotten very popular lately—so popular that the term “JUULing” is becoming common. While we usually don’t discuss brand names on the blog, some experts think the name “JUUL” might become like “Kleenex” or “Xerox”; these brands became so popular that people often use those names instead of “tissue” or “copy.”

Will “JUUL” become the new term for “e-cigs”? Whatever you call them, and whatever brand they are, there are too many unknowns about the health effects of these devices if you start using them in your teen years.

Quitting—or starting?

The company that makes JUUL says they designed the device for adults who are trying to quit smoking regular cigarettes; the company has educational programs for teens about waiting until they’re adults to use these devices. But JUUL is still being used by teens, who think teachers and other adults won’t notice because the JUUL doesn’t look like a regular e-cig.

A JUUL is a small, rectangular, box-shaped device that looks more like a flash drive than a cigarette. Like most e-cigs, they come in flavors that appeal to young people.

Different look, same danger

Teens have been hiding things like e-cigs from adults for decades. In the 1950s, they spent a lot of time trying to hide their cigarettes from adults. But once teens began to learn about the disastrous health effects of tobacco cigarettes, they stopped using them as much. Now, teens are smoking less than ever.

So, while the JUUL design may look pretty slick, don’t let it fool you: Inside, it has the same nicotine that’s in regular cigarettes. In fact, according to the manufacturer, just one JUUL “pod” (the cartridge inserted into the device) delivers about as much nicotine to the user as a whole pack of cigarettes.

Next stop, tobacco?

There’s also evidence that many teens using e-cigs switch to regular cigarettes, sometimes within just a few months. Remember: You can get addicted to nicotine, and regular cigarettes deliver it to the body more efficiently than e-cigs do. Inhaling the tobacco smoke from cigarettes leads to horrible diseases and death.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about how using e-cigs (which don’t contain actual tobacco) will affect your health. But if you’re a teen, the government won’t let you buy them, and for good reasons. Anything with nicotine is bad news for your health—no matter how fancy it might look or how well you can hide it from grown-ups.

For more information on JUUL, check out this page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.

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