Electronic smoking devices (or e-cigarettes) are an emerging trend in today’s society. E-cigarettes are also known as vapes, vaporizers, vape pens, hookah pens and e-pipes.  Some are made to look like conventional cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, while others resemble pens or USB flash drives. Larger devices, such as tank systems or mods, bear little or no resemblance to cigarettes.

How do they work?

Most e-cigarettes consist of four parts:

  • A cartridge or reservoir or pod, which holds a liquid solution (e-liquid) made up of these basic ingredients; water, nicotine, flavorings, additives, and a propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin base (both used in food to sweeten and preserve). All have differing amounts of contaminants.
  • A heating element (atomizer)
  • A power source (usually a battery)
  • A mouthpiece that the person uses to inhale

The liquid is heated by a battery-powered heating device, which creates an aerosol that the user inhales (called vaping).


E-cigarettes come in different shapes and sizes

Various models of e-cigarettes can contain harmful and potentially harmful ingredients, including:

  • Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
  • Flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead

E-cigarette makers claim their products are a safer and “less dangerous” alternative to smoking cigarettes. Because electronic cigarettes are currently unregulated, there is limited information available to the general public regarding the contents and health effects associated with these products.

Resources for Parents and Caregivers

Now that you have a clear understanding of what electronic smoking devices are and the risks of using them, you can have meaningful conversations with your teens. Talking to your teens and young adults about smoking and vaping can be difficult.

Visit the Resources for Parents/Caregivers about Vaping page for more information. 

For tips on how to start the conversation, download our Tips for Parents/Caregivers: Conversations about Vaping. 

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