What is the e-cigarette?

Among the latest gadgets intended to replace cigarettes or help people to quit smoking is the “e-cigarette”. In reality there isn’t just one e-cigarette, but rather a variety of models, some of which are very similar, and some quite different.

The main type of e-cigarette that has recently attracted a lot of publicity contains a nicotine cartridge, an electronic circuit connected to a vaporizer (using propylene glycol as the vehicle). The release of nicotine vapour is activated by sucking on the end (a bit like a cigarette but requiring a slightly stronger ‘draw”), which simultaneously lights the tip red (using a simple pressure-sensitive LED). The whole thing also includes a small computer chip, and airflow sensor and a lithium battery. The vapour produced by puffing looks very ‘smoke-like” but preliminary data suggests that the user does not absorb carbon-monoxide as they would from a cigarette. This suggests that no combustion is taking place.

One tobacco control advocate who is enthusiastic about the potential for this type of e-cigarette is Dr Murray Laugesen. You can find summaries of his research and views on the e-cigarette at:

One thing we don’t yet have good data on is whether these e-cigarettes are able to effectively deliver nicotine to the user. Amazingly none of the many companies making these things have produced data on the blood nicotine levels achieved by users. We know very well that a product that is capable of increasing the smoker’s blood nicotine concentration by around 10 ng/ml within 10 minutes will be capable of satisfying nicotine cravings and will be used as long as its taste or other sensory characteristics (or price) are not very off-putting. If the e-cigarette is capable of delivering nicotine to the bloodstream of the user at that rate it may have some potential. If its delivery is much lower than that, it will remain a novelty gadget and nothing more.
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About the Author

MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.