Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, look like the real thing but have just one thing in common with cigarettes made from tobacco: nicotine. An electronic cigarette consists of a white cylindrical tube with a brown filter and a red, glowing tip. Instead of tobacco however, e-cigarettes are filled with liquid nicotine. When smokers draw on the business end of the tube, a battery heats the nicotine, which creates a water-based nicotine vapor that is inhaled into the lungs. The excess cigarette-like "smoke" vapor is then emitted from the end of the e-cigarette, completing the cigarette smoking illusion.
Touted as a Healthy Smoking Alternative
Manufacturers of electronic cigarettes say that the product is a healthy smoking alternative, and even an effective quit smoking aid.
A typical manufactured cigarette contains upwards of 4000 chemical compounds, many of which are poisonous and/or cause cancer. While nicotine is the addictive ingredient in cigarettes, it is the thousands of toxins contained in cigarette smoke that account for the majority of smoking-related diseases associated with tobacco use.
The jury is still out on all of the health hazards of nicotine, but we do know that nicotine is extremely poisonous. In fact, one drop of pure nicotine is enough to kill a person. Smokers receive much smaller doses than that in tobacco products, however. For instance, a standard cigarette contains approximately 10 milligrams of nicotine, but only one or two milligrams is inhaled directly by the smoker. It is unclear how much nicotine is inhaled through an electronic cigarette because this product is unregulated (and untested for the most part) as of now.
Electronic Cigarettes Under Scrutiny
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looks at the electronic cigarette as an unapproved new drug due to the lack of scientific evidence of the safety and effectiveness of this smoking substitute. As such, the FDA has been detaining and blocking imports of electronic cigarettes since at least last summer, though they are not pulling e-cigarettes from U.S. store shelves presently.
In a statement issued in September of 2008, the World Health Organization warned consumers that there is no solid evidence to support contentions that electronic cigarettes are a safe smoking alternative -- or an effective way to help people quit smoking.
FDA Hazy on E-Cigarettes' Safety -- CNN.com