Closeup of a young woman using an electronic cigarette

E-cigarette Research

Investigating the health effects, marketing practices, and policy impact of e-cigarettes and other vapor products

Electronic cigarettes arrived on the market in the mid-2000s, creating both excitement and uncertainty. To some smokers looking to quit, they offered the promise of a new alternative to the known health hazards of tobacco. But they also came with many unknowns, including a lack of clear evidence on their safety compared to traditional cigarettes, how much nicotine and other ingredients they deliver, and what new risks they might introduce to users. Much-needed research is underway to discover whether e-cigarettes will result in more harm or benefit to public health.

RTI is at the forefront of research on e-cigarettes. We recognize that the health consequences of e-cigarettes and other vapor products are not yet fully understood. On August 8, 2016, the first FDA regulations on e-cigarettes went into effect, including a ban on sales to anyone under 18. Retailers and customers are now adapting to the changes. The FDA’s evolving stance on e-cigarettes underscores the need for scientific study as e-cigarette products and marketing continue to develop.

Because of our wide-ranging expertise, we are ideally positioned to provide insights on these products from a variety of scientific perspectives, including public health and policy, pharmacology and toxicology, aerosol technology, and health communications.

We have chronicled the proliferation of e-cigarette advertising and studied its effects, particularly among children. We have analyzed the contents of e-cigarette emissions and evaluated the potential consequences to both users and people who are exposed secondhand. We have conducted studies related to other emerging issues including product labeling, public health messaging, and point-of-sale policies.

Changes in the e-cigarette marketplace and policy landscape are creating ever more avenues for research. The devices themselves are evolving. Initially many e-cigarettes mimicked the look and feel of cigarettes, but in recent years, manufacturers have unveiled more complex, customizable designs. Marketing has grown more sophisticated and is reaching new audiences through social media. People are using e-cigarettes in public settings, leaving employers, business owners, and others to wrestle with whether and how to deal with second-hand exposure.

Understanding the effects of e-cigarettes will require ongoing research that can rapidly respond to these challenges. RTI is leading the scientific effort to support consumers, health agencies and other stakeholders in making informed decisions about e-cigarettes. We will continue to be an independent, authoritative source of information in the years to come.