An electronic cigarette or e-cigarette is a handheld electronic device that vaporizes a flavored liquid. The user inhales the vapor, so e-cigarette use is called vaping. The fluid in the e-cigarette, called e-liquid, is usually made of nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerine, and flavorings.
The benefits and the health risks of e-cigarettes are uncertain. While e-cigarettes are likely safer than tobacco cigarettes, the long-term health effects are unknown. There is tentative evidence they can help people quit smoking although they have not been proven to work better than regulated nicotine replacement products, and the regulated medications are safer. Their usefulness in tobacco harm reduction is unclear but they could form part of future strategies to decrease tobacco-related death and disease. Overall their safety risk to users is like that of smokeless tobacco. No serious adverse effects from e-cigarettes have been reported in trials. Less serious adverse effects include throat and mouth inflammation, vomiting, nausea, and coughing. Non-smokers who use e-cigarettes risk addiction to nicotine.
E-cigarettes create a vapor primarily consisting of flavors, glycerol and propylene glycol, whose composition varies across and within manufacturers. The vapor can contain a small level of toxins and traces of heavy metals detected at levels permissible in inhalation medicines, and some potentially harmful chemicals not found in tobacco smoke at levels permissible by workplace safety standards. However, chemicals may exceed the more stringent safety limits that apply to the public. High aldehyde levels, which have been generated in laboratory settings by researchers overheating e-liquid, cause a highly aversive acrid taste that users would not subject themselves to.
The modern e-cigarette arose from a 2003 invention by Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik, and as of 2015 most e-cigarettes were made in China. Since their introduction to the market in 2004, global use has risen exponentially. For instance, in the UK user numbers have increased from 700,000 in 2012 to 2.6 million in 2015, In the United States e-cigarettes are used by a significant percentage of young people and adults. Most people's reason for using e-cigarettes involves trying to quit smoking, though many people use them recreationally. A majority of e-cigarette users still smoke tobacco, leading to concerns that dual use can "delay or deter quitting". About 60% of UK users are smokers and about 40% are ex-smokers, while use among never-smokers remains "negligible". Because of the potential relationship with tobacco laws and medical drug policies, e-cigarette legislation is being debated in many countries. The European Parliament passed regulations in February 2014, to come into effect by 2016, standardizing liquids and personal vaporizers, listing ingredients, and child-proofing liquid containers. The US FDA published proposed regulations in April 2014 with some similar measures. As of 2014, there were 466 brands of e-cigarette with sales of around $7 billion.