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Smoking & Vaping FAQs

What is the age limit for purchasing tobacco products?

In December 2019, the federal government raised the legal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years.

What does tobacco contain?

The smoke from combustible tobacco products contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Nicotine is the primary reinforcing component of tobacco; it drives tobacco addiction. Hundreds of compounds are added to tobacco to enhance its flavor and the absorption of nicotine.

What makes tobacco addictive?

Immediately after exposure to nicotine, there is a “kick” caused in part by the drug’s stimulation of the adrenal glands and resulting discharge of epinephrine (adrenaline). The rush of adrenaline stimulates the body and causes an increase in blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. Like other drugs, nicotine also activates reward pathways in the brain—circuitry that regulates reinforcement and feelings of pleasure.

How does tobacco deliver its effects?

When tobacco is smoked, the average smoker takes in 1–2 milligrams of nicotine per cigarette. Nicotine rapidly reaches peak levels in the bloodstream and enters the brain. A typical smoker will take 10 puffs on a cigarette over the roughly 5 minutes that the cigarette is lit. Thus, a person who smokes about 1 pack (20 cigarettes) daily gets 200 “hits” of nicotine to the brain each day.

Among those who do not inhale the smoke—such as cigar and pipe smokers and smokeless tobacco users—nicotine is absorbed through mucous membranes in the mouth and reaches peak blood and brain levels more slowly.

What methods of using tobacco are used?

While cigarette smoking has declined significantly during the past 40 years, it is still the most popular method of using tobacco.

However, the use of other tobacco products is increasing—particularly among young people. These include:

  • Cigars: Tobacco wrapped in leaf tobacco or another tobacco-containing substance instead of paper, which can be bought individually
  • Cigarillos: Small cigars that cost less and are also available for purchase individually
  • Hookahs or waterpipes: Pipes with a long, flexible tube for drawing smoke from lit, flavored tobacco through water contained in a bowl
  • Smokeless tobacco: Products like chewing tobacco and snuff that are placed in the mouth between the teeth and gums
  • Powder tobacco: Mixtures that are inhaled through the nose
  • E-cigarettes:  These devices, which deliver nicotine in the absence of the other chemicals in tobacco, have become popular in recent years

What are the risks of flavored tobacco products?

One specific concern about e-cigarettes and tobacco products is the addition of flavorings, which may make them particularly appealing to youth and may contribute to increased use of these products among young people. Many of the flavorings used in tobacco products are also found in candies and beverages. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 banned the sale of cigarettes with flavors other than menthol, but other flavored tobacco products (e.g., small cigars, cigarillos, and smokeless tobacco) can still be sold. More research is needed on how flavors affect long-term use.

Are e-cigarettes safer than traditional cigarettes?

It is likely that, on balance, e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes from the standpoint of physical health. E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco or produce the same toxic combustion products, like tar, that cause lung cancer and other diseases in users and people exposed to secondhand smoke. (They are, however, classified as “tobacco products” for regulatory purposes.)

However, the nicotine in e-cigarettes can cause addiction and neurocognitive impairments, and the vapor from e-cigarettes typically contains a range of other chemicals. Toxicants, carcinogens, and metal particles have been detected in the liquids and aerosols of e-cigarettes, and it is currently unclear what risk they pose with repeated use. Because these products are relatively new, very little is known about the long-term health effects.

How does the federal government regulate e-cigarettes?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates all other tobacco products, began regulating electronic nicotine delivery systems (such as e-cigarettes and vape pens) in 2016. Under the new regulations, e-cigarette manufacturers must list ingredients.

How much nicotine is in e-cigarette fluid?

It varies. Newer e-cigarette devices can deliver substantial amounts of nicotine, and some users are able to get nicotine at levels similar to or even greater than a traditional cigarette.

Some research has found that e-cigarettes deliver less nicotine on average than traditional cigarettes, but that users may change puffing patterns to compensate. Inexperienced e-cigarette users take in modest nicotine concentrations, but those who regularly use these devices adjust their puffing to consume similar levels of the drug as with traditional cigarettes.

Are e-cigarettes useful for smoking cessation?

Some research suggests e-cigarettes may help people quit smoking cigarettes, while other data suggest that they can impede quitting and that they may open the door to traditional cigarette use for people who might not otherwise try them. Thus, much more research is needed on this question.

The Become an EX online program is also available to help you re-learn life without cigarettes or vapes.