POSTED: Monday, May 18, 2009 - 7:27am
UPDATED: Monday, August 26, 2013 - 10:03pm
Electronic cigarettes give smokers nicotine fix without lighting up...
It's been a long time since smokers could light up on a plane, or during a business meeting, but a new product is allowing them to do exactly that.
It's called an electronic cigarette, and it doesn't contain tobacco or several of the other harmful carcinogens linked to traditional cigarettes.
But what's in it, and what does it do to your body? Experts aren't so sure.
The device does not emit smoke. It's a vapor created by mixing water, flavoring and nicotine with the heat of a battery similar to that found in your cell phone.
"You get to smoke this anywhere, anytime, anyplace, and we believe because of the current environment, taxes on cigarettes, it's a much better economic value for you as a consumer," says John Wiesehan, Jr.
Wiesehan, president of the distributorship for the e-cigarette brand N-Joy, says they only market the product towards current smokers, and it should not be used as a stop smoking aid.
But other manufacturers do claim e-cigarettes can help smokers quit, by giving them their nicotine fix without the harmful chemicals.
Not everyone agrees.
"It should not be marketed presently. It should be, FDA should exert its control over it, its authority over it, it is a nicotine delivery device," says Dr. Cheryl Healton, President of the American Legacy Foundation.
There have been no independent studies on the e-cigarette, and so far, the FDA has not taken a look at it.
"We do not know what is in it, we do not know if when what is in it is brought into the lungs repeatedly, it is safe for the lungs," adds Dr. Healton.
There are also concerns the different flavor options are appealing to children, or that it could inspire former smokers to pick up the habit again.
But e-cigarette manufacturers say their studies show the product is safe.
"People that smoke today, they're gonna smoke, because they like to smoke, unfortunately 5 million of them die from the current cigarette they smoke, this is an alternative to that," argues Wiesehan.
An alternative many experts question.
"If it were to turn out that this particular nicotine delivery device was acceptable to the public as a cessation approach, it well could be a great public health breakthrough, we simply do not know," says Dr. Healton.
Until more research is done, it's up to consumers to decide whether they will light up, turn on, or avoid nicotine all together.
FDA officials say e-cigarettes are not approved for marketing in the U.S., and they are looking at each product on a case by case basis.
However, they have not been reviewed by the agency for safety and effectiveness.
A Florida-based e-cigarette manufacturer is currently seeking a restraining order against the FDA, claiming the agency does not have the authority to regulate their product.
It costs $150 to start using e-cigarettes, and it's roughly $20 for refill cartridges, which manufacturers say are equivalent to a carton of cigarettes.