Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Electronic cigarettes: A safe way to light up?

What are electronic cigarettes? Are they safer than conventional cigarettes?

Updated: 12-01-2011

Answer

Electronic cigarettes, often called e-cigarettes, are battery-operated devices designed to look like regular tobacco cigarettes. Like their conventional counterparts, electronic cigarettes contain nicotine. Here's how they work: An atomizer heats a liquid containing nicotine, turning it into a vapor that can be inhaled and creating a vapor cloud that resembles cigarette smoke.

Manufacturers claim that electronic cigarettes are a safe alternative to conventional cigarettes. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has questioned the safety of these products. When the FDA analyzed samples of two popular brands, they found variable amounts of nicotine and traces of toxic chemicals, including known cancer-causing substances (carcinogens). This prompted the FDA to issue a warning about potential health risks associated with electronic cigarettes.

Until more is known about the potential risks, the safe play is to say no to electronic cigarettes. If you're looking for help to stop smoking, there are many FDA-approved medications that have been shown to be safe and effective for this purpose.