An e-cigarette is a smoke-free device used almost exclusively as an alternative to smoking. They generally consist of a tube-shaped battery, an “atomizer” (heating coil) that heats the liquid to produce an aerosol (which is called “vapor”), and a cartridge or “tank” to hold the liquid. Basic models that are most commonly sold in convenience stores and gas stations have a similar size, shape and look of a conventional cigarette, while more advanced models sold online and in specialty e-cigarette stores are generally larger and do not resemble a conventional cigarette.
E-cigarettes are very low risk compared to smoking, estimated to pose in the neighborhood of 1/100th the risk. Many of those who use e-cigarettes felt like they would never be able to quit smoking until they discovered that e-cigarettes were a satisfying substitute. The devices provide an alternative source of nicotine, one of the most compelling aspects of smoking, but without the harmful smoke (nicotine absent smoke has risks that are so low as to be undetectable). E-cigarettes further simulate the smoking experience by delivering an aerosol that is similar to inhaling smoke, as well as offering similar hand-and-mouth experience. (Other low-risk smoke-free products also deliver nicotine but do not provide the rest of the experience).
Some opponents of e-cigarettes have made an analogy of the harm reduction potential of e-cigarettes compared to smoking as “jumping out of the 15th story instead of the 100th story of a building.” This is a gross misrepresentation of how much lower the risks of any smoke-free products are compared to smoking. Realistically, using the same analogy, it’s more like jumping from the 100th story or taking the stairs!