Are electronic cigarettes a safe way to quit smoking, or an addictive and dangerous alternative? At this point, we still don't know. Most experts will agree they're safer than traditional cigarettes, but there aren't enough studies to say how safe. As our Katie Gibas reports, that's why many companies and some cities are adding e-cigarettes to their smoking bans.
Electronic Cigarettes have exploded in popularity. Unique Cigs Inc. only sells e-cigarettes, which are battery-powered devices that transform flavored nicotine-liquid into vapor. They started in 2010, and since then, they've expanded to eight retail stores.
"We have people who have smoked for many years, sometimes 40, 50 plus years, and within the same day, the same week, they have literally switched to e-Cigs as a successful alternative. It has improved their health, and quality of life in many ways," said David Holmes, the President & Founder of Unique Cigs Inc.
But experts warn, there isn't any data that shows e-cigarettes help smokers quit. In fact, some studies say the nicotine in them is very addictive. And because e-cigarettes are still a relatively new phenomenon and the FDA doesn't yet regulate them, health experts are concerned about the potential toxins.
"Most of them are made in foreign countries, many of them in China. We know that they contain formaldehyde, acetone and possibly many other chemicals including toxins. Since we don't control them in any way, we have no way to guarantee their safety for anyone," said Dr. Leslie Kohman, the Director of the Upstate Cancer Center.
Holmes said, "I would encourage anyone to read the ingredients that are on the side. You don't know what you're getting in a lot of cases from China. So thankfully, all Unique Cigs is 100 percent USA Made and only have the four ingredients that are all pharmaceutical grade."
Most hospitals and many companies have already included e-cigarettes in their smoking bans. And as one of his last acts as New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg signed a law that bans e-cigarettes everywhere smoking is banned.
"Now they have to stand with the smokers and breathe all the thousands of toxins and chemicals that are in cigarettes. I really do think it's a shame, and in some cases, a lot of those people may go back to smoking," said Holmes.
Chris Owens, the Tobacco Cessation Center Director said, "Just because the makers of the e-cigarettes say there's nothing in the vapor of that's emitted from these, because there haven't been studies done, we don't know what other people are being exposed to."
Anti-tobacco advocates say e-cigarettes could stall the progress made in recent decades to reduce the number of people smoking. That's why they're urging the FDA to step in to regulate e-cigarettes, just like other tobacco products.
Health experts say they've seen people switch from traditional to e-cigarettes, but they recommend if you want to kick the habit, to do it with more studied cessation aids. If you need help quitting, you can call the New York State Smokers Quitline at 1-866-NY-QUITS.