Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, are a relatively new tobacco product that have been sold in the U.S. for about a decade. The e-cigarettes currently in the U.S. marketplace have not been systematically reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine their impact on health. In January 2018, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a consensus study report that reviewed over 800 different studies. The report made it clear that using e-cigarettes causes health risks. It concluded that e-cigarettes contain and emit a number of potentially toxic substances. The Academies’ report also states there is moderate evidence that youth who use e-cigarettes are at increased risk for coughing and wheezing, an increase in asthma and life-long nicotine addiction.

Are e-cigarettes less harmful than cigarettes?

There is no FDA oversight with the manufacturing of e-cigarettes. This means there is no oversight regarding potentially harmful ingredients. However, e-cigarettes almost always contain harmful ingredients such as nicotine. Nicotine exposure during adolescence can harm the developing brain. Acrolein, another known ingredient of many e-cigarettes, causes irreversible lung damage.

Is there a difference between e-cigarettes and JUULs?

No. JUULs may look different, but they’re actually a type of e-cigarette. E-cigarettes are battery powered and deliver nicotine through a liquid which turns into an aerosol. The e-liquids come in a variety of different flavors that appeal to youth.

The most popular e-cigarette among teens is JUUL. JUUL is a portable nicotine-delivery device designed to mimic the experience of a cigarette, without looking like one. JUUL is more discrete, it contains nicotine salts that do not produce vapor or visible emissions when the device is used and looks like a USB drive while other e-cigarettes may look like phones. This makes it easy for youth to use it anywhere such as in the classroom or at home.

All JUULs contain some nicotine – something many youth don’t realize. One JUUL pod, the e-liquid cartridge, may contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes making the product even more addictive.

How bad is the e-cigarette epidemic?

According to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey:

  • Between 2017 and 2018, current (past 30 day) e-cigarette use increased by 78 percent among high school students (to 20.8 percent) and by 48 percent among middle school students (to 4.9 percent).
  • In 2018, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students were e-cigarette users – an alarming increase of 1.5 million students in just one year.
  • Among high school e-cigarette users, from 2017 to 2018, current use of any flavored e-cigarettes increased from 60.9 percent to 67.8 percent, and current use of menthol- or mint-flavored e-cigarettes increased from 42.3 percent to 51.2 percent.
  • The increase in e-cigarette use has driven a 38 percent increase in use of any tobacco product among high school students (from 19.6 percent in 2017 to 27.1 percent in 2018). This reverses a decline in recent years.

According to the FDA, no e-cigarette has been found to be safe and effective in helping smokers quit. If you need help quitting please talk to your local health care provider and/or call the Wisconsin Quit line at 1-800-QuitNow (800-784-8669).


Submitted by: Mary Boe, Program Coordinator for Western Wisconsin Working for Tobacco Free Living

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