Electronic cigarette use is becoming a concern for Air Force health care providers as the new devices quickly overtake traditional cigarettes in popularity.
The battery-operated e-cigarettes, as they're commonly referred to, deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals in a vapor form, which is inhaled.
The 2011 Department of Defense Survey of Health Related Behaviors released data showing that 5 percent of Airmen have tried e-cigarettes and 2.2 percent have used them in the past year.
E-cigarettes are advertised as being safer than conventional cigarettes, but studies have found potentially harmful ingredients in the product, including nitrosamines, diethylene glycol and animal carcinogens.
Colonel John Oh, M.D., the chief of health promotion at the Air Force Medical Support Agency, cautioned Airmen not to use e-cigarettes as a substitute for smoking.
"Not enough is known about the long-term safety of e-cigarettes to definitely state that they are safe," he said in a statement.
The Food and Drug Administration considers e-cigarettes a tobacco product, but unlike traditional cigarettes, they are marketed without restrictions, including a warning label.
Oh thinks that this increased availability only helps their popularity.
"There is a real concern that unfettered access to, and marketing of e-cigarettes will create a generation of youths hooked on nicotine -- and this trend could lead to greater traditional cigarette or other smokeless tobacco use," he worried.
Air Force Instruction 40-102, Tobacco Use, established a first-of-its-kind e-cigarette policy, stating that e-cigarettes are a tobacco product and thus subject to the same restrictions as cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco.
Oh said future changes to their tobacco policies will be made based on scientific evidence and in consultation with subject matter experts, both within and without the Department of Defense.