It's clear there are health issues related to vaping and using e-cigarettes. What's not so clear: the difference between a vaporizer and an e-cigarette. Technically, they're the one and the same.
According to the American Lung Association, e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine through a liquid, which turns into an aerosol when smoked. That includes e-pens, e-pipes, e-hookah and e-cigars, which are collectively known as ENDS, or electronic nicotine delivery systems. The association says e-cigs also includes vapes and vape pens, including Juul devices.
Beyond the shape or style, there isn't a big difference. Some look like real cigarettes; others look like flash drives or pens. The style difference really comes down to the cartridge. For example, there are disposable e-cigs that look like traditional cigarettes. Those are not refillable and get thrown away after use. Some devices, like Juul's, are rechargeable, but the cartridges they use are disposable. And some rechargeable vaporizers have "tanks" that users fill with vaping liquid.
That's what the hardware looks like, but vape liquids have a lot more room for customization. Users can buy – or create – liquids with different flavors or ingredients. Additives can include just about anything, but some common ones are nicotine, vitamin oils, and THC – the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
While e-cigarettes are often thought to be safer than traditional cigarettes, their long-term and short-term effects are still uncharted territory. The American Lung Association says the "FDA has not found any e-cigarette to be safe and effective in helping smokers quit."
Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman is leading the CDC's investigation into the health issues associated with e-cigarettes.
She said, "We're absolutely concerned about THC, but there's a large number in our data that are reporting [use of] both nicotine and THC. ... There is no one product, device or substance that we can point to that is common among all these different patients."
The CDC has warned consumers to stop using e-cigs while it tries to figure out what exactly is causing this epidemic of lung-related illnesses. It says there have been six deaths linked to vaping and 450 more reported cases of vaping-related illness. Right now, experts still don't know if e-cigs' health risks are brought about by nicotine, THC, flavor oils or something else.