By Serena Gordon

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Jan. 3, 2014 (HealthDay News) It’s the new year, a time when a smokers’ thoughts often turn to quitting.

Some people may use that promise of a fresh start to trade their tobacco cigarettes for an electronic cigarette, a device that attempts to mimic the look and feel of a cigarette and often contains nicotine.

Here’s what you need to know about e cigarettes

What is an e cigarette?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) describes an e cigarette as a battery operated device that turns nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals into a vapor that can be inhaled. The ones that contain nicotine offer varying concentrations of nicotine. Most are designed to look like a tobacco cigarette, but some look like everyday objects, such as pens or USB drives, according to the FDA.

How does an e cigarette work?

“Nicotine or flavorings are dissolved into propylene glycol usually, though it’s hard to know for sure because they’re not regulated,” explained smoking cessation expert Dr. Gordon Strauss, founder of QuitGroups and a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Then, when heated, you can inhale the vapor.”

The process of using an e cigarette is called “vaping” rather than smoking, according to Hilary Tindle, an assistant professor of medicine and director of the tobacco treatment service at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. She said that people who use electronic cigarettes are called “vapers” rather than smokers.

Although many e cigarettes are designed to look like regular cigarettes, both Tindle and Strauss said they don’t exactly replicate the smoking experience, particularly when it comes to the nicotine delivery. Most of the nicotine in e cigarettes gets into the bloodstream through the soft tissue of your cheeks (buccal mucosa) instead of through your lungs, like it does with a tobacco cigarette.

“Nicotine from a regular cigarette gets to the brain much quicker, which may make them more addictive and satisfying,” Strauss said.

Where can e cigarettes be used?

“People want to use e cigarettes anywhere they can’t smoke,” Strauss said. “I sat next to someone on a plane who was using an e cigarette. He was using it to get nicotine during the flight.” But he noted that just where it’s OK to use an e cigarette indoors, for instance? remains unclear.

Wherever they’re used, though, he said it’s unlikely that anyone would get more than a miniscule amount of nicotine secondhand from an e cigarette.

Can an e cigarette help people quit smoking?

That, too, seems to be an unanswered question. Tindle said that “it’s too early to tell definitively that e cigarettes can help people quit.”

A study published in The Lancet in September was the first moderately sized, randomized and controlled trial of the use of e cigarettes to quit smoking, she said. It compared nicotine containing e cigarettes to nicotine patches and to e cigarettes that simply contained flavorings. The researchers found essentially no differences in the quit rates for the products after six months of use.

E-cigarettes to be banned for under-18s – telegraph

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Children under the age of 18 will be banned from buying potentially “toxic” e cigarettes under new laws to be announced next week.

Ministers will also make it a criminal offence for the first time for adults to buy conventional cigarettes for under aged children, punishable with a fine of up to f2,500.

The moves come in response to concerns that growing numbers of children are taking up “e cigarettes”, before becoming addicted to nicotine and moving on to regular smoking.

The government s medical experts warned that there was no way to tell how damaging the new electronic vaporising devices were for young people s health.

Officials suggested that ministers had been moved to act following anecdotal evidence that e cigarettes were gaining in popularity, with some reports of children smoking them in class.

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Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, will back amendments to the Children and Families Bill to create a new “age of sale requirement” for e cigarettes and make “proxy” purchasing knowingly buying tobacco on behalf of someone under 18 illegal.

E cigarettes have become increasingly popular among adults who are trying to give up smoking. Some 1.3 million people in Britain are believed to have switched from smoking conventional cigarettes to the electronic vaporising devices.

E cigarettes give the smoker a hit of nicotine, a highly addictive drug, and are widely thought to be safer than cigarettes.

However, Professor Dame Sally Davies, the government s chief medical officer, said “We do not yet know the harm that e cigarettes can cause to adults let alone to children, but we do know they are not risk free.

“E cigarettes can produce toxic chemicals and the amount of nicotine and other chemical constituents and contaminants, including vaporised flavourings, varies between products meaning they could be extremely damaging to young people s health.”

At present there is no legal restriction on people under the age of 18 buying products like e cigarettes containing nicotine, which officials say represents a serious legal loophole at a time when e cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular with teenagers.

Medical professionals are concerned that these products, which give young people a taste for nicotine, could lead to an increase in the number of teenagers smoking.

E cigarettes consist of a battery, a cartridge containing nicotine, a solution, and an atomiser to turn the solution into vapour.

The nicotine is delivered without a flame and without tobacco or tar and e cigarette users describe the experience as “vaping” rather than smoking.

In a bid to restrict children s access to cigarettes further, a new offence will be created which will mean any adult who buys cigarettes or other tobacco products for someone who is under 18 could be given a f50 fixed penalty notice or fined up to f2,500.

Jane Ellison, the Public Health Minister, said “Two thirds of smokers say they smoked regularly before they were 18, showing that this is an addiction largely taken up in childhood.

“This measure is designed to help protect children from the dangers of being bought cigarettes by irresponsible adults.”