Background: Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are battery-powered devices that vaporize a liquid solution to deliver a dose of inhaled nicotine to the user. There is ongoing debate regarding their regulation.
Objectives: This comprehensive narrative review aimed to discuss key issues including usage patterns, health effects, efficacy in smoking cessation and regulatory concerns with a view to informing future regulation and research agendas.
Methods: PubMed, Scopus and Web of Science databases were searched using the terms (electronic cigarettes OR e-cigarettes) for articles in English, relevant to humans and published during January 2009-January 2014.
Results: The literature search revealed 37 relevant articles. Findings suggest that e-cigarettes are mostly used by middle-aged current smokers, particularly males, to help them for quitting or for recreation. E-cigarettes contain very low levels of multiple toxic substances such as formaldehyde and acrolein, but these levels are many times lower than those found in cigarettes. They were found to have effectiveness in aiding smoking cessation to a limited degree. Debate continues regarding regulating their use for cessation versus heavy restrictions to control recreational use on the basis that it perpetuates nicotine addiction.
Conclusions: The cytotoxicity and long term health effects of e-cigarettes are unknown. Nevertheless the e-cigarette market continues to expand, largely driven by middle-aged smokers who claim to be using e-cigarettes in an attempt to reduce or quit smoking. E-cigarettes may have some potential as smoking cessation aids and, in the researchers' view, should therefore be subject to further research and regulation similar to other nicotine replacement therapies.
Keywords: E-cigarettes; Electronic cigarettes; Smoking; Smoking cessation; Tobacco.