e-cigarette or electronic cigarette, a device that produces an aerosol from a liquid containing nicotine or another active ingredient, allowing it to be inhaled in a manner similar to smoking a cigarette. Generically known as an electronic nicotine delivery system, an e-cigarette consists of mouthpiece, a mechanism for heating the liquid to produce the aerosol, a tank that contains the liquid, a battery for powering the heating mechanism, and a on-off switch. Some e-cigarettes are disposable, but most have tanks that can be replaced or refilled and batteries than can be recharged. The e-cigarette is usually activated by a sensor that responds to user's sucking on the mouthpiece. Some e-cigarettes look like cigarettes, cigars, or pipes; others look like pens or USB flash drives; and others are not made to resemble something else. The liquid used in e-cigarettes, in addition to nicotine or other active ingredients, typically contains flavorings, preservatives, propylene glycol, and glycerol; the last two resemble smoke when exhaled. Vaping, instead of smoking, is the most common term used to describe inhaling the aerosol produced by an e-cigarette.

The modern e-cigarette was developed in China and first marketed in 2003, but similar devices were first proposed in the 1960s. Typically marketed as a smoke-free replacement for smoking or an aid for quitting smoking, they have become common since they were first introduced, and are often used to inhale an aerosol produced from liquids that do not contain nicotine; some users, for example, inhale the active ingredients in marijuana.

Although e-cigarettes have been marketed as healthier than cigarettes, because of the absence of tar and other carcinogenic products of burning, nicotine is a highly addictive, potentially hazardous substance. There is little evidence that e-cigarettes are useful for quitting smoking, and smokers who start using e-cigarettes may not stop smoking cigarettes. The use of flavorings but also the absence of combustion products has made vaping appealing to teenagers who have not previously smoked, leading to concerns about rising nicotine addiction in teenagers. Despite the lack of smoke, inhaling the aerosol an e-cigarette produces is potentially harmful. Cases of lung illness and some deaths have been associated with vaping; the devices themselves have sometimes exploded, often injuring (and in a few cases, killing) the user. The long-term effects of e-cigarrette use are unknown.

Regulation of the devices varies widely. A number of nations have banned e-cigarettes, but in other countries there are no regulations governing their use or sale. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration did not assert regulatory authority over e-cigarettes until 2016, when it became illegal to sell e-cigarette products to persons under the age of 18. Additional regulations came into effect in 2019, and a ban on most flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes was imposed in 2020, primarily to reduce the appeal of the devices to minors.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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