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E-cigarettes: a safer alternative to smoking?

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Sales of electronic cigarettes are expected to reach $1 billion this year.

Though they’re increasing in popularity, they’re not without controversy.

“Finally, smokers have a real alternative,” a narrator says on a commercial for NJOY electronic cigarettes.

Some even have celebrity endorsements, like actor Stephen Dorff for Blu e-cigs.

“C’mon guys! Rise from the ashes,” Dorff says in one commercial.

These products are designed to look, feel and even taste like traditional cigarettes, but they’re battery-powered devices that convert doses of nicotine called juice, into a vapor that’s inhaled by the user.

It’s also called “vaping.”

There are an estimated 2.5 million e-cigarette users in the United States, and in increasing numbers, people are vaping as a way to quit smoking.

Dave Norris was a smoker for 25 years. At his worst, he smoked a pack-and-a-half a day.

“I knew I should quit and I tried many different ways to quit,” he said. “I tried cold turkey, I tried the patches, the gums, hypnosis, the prescriptions, all of that.”

But none of those things worked long-term for Norris, until he picked up an electronic cigarette about two years ago.

“For 25 years, I’ve had this hand to mouth oral fixation, and this satisfies that as well as the nicotine cravings,” Norris said.

He’s not alone. Every third Saturday of the month, the White Rose Vaper’s Club meets at Cobblestone’s Restaurant in York.

Around 40 to 50 people show up to socialize and try out different products with like-minded people.

“We’re kind of a social gathering, a support group for each other,” said Norris, who helps to organize the gatherings. “So that we’re all here together and we’re all going to keep each other from ever smoking again.”

At Lancaster General Health, smoking cessation experts say the jury is still out on whether these products are safe and effective, because the industry is largely unregulated.

“It’s the safety and the potency of the nicotine,” said Mary LeVasseur, manager of Lancaster General Health’s free smoking cessation program. “So those are the things when we’re talking about what we can recommend to patients. Again, we want to be recommending things that we know have been tested.”

The liquid products that go into electronic cigarettes are at the center of the debate.

The juices come in varying nicotine dosages, some have none at all, and a variety of flavors that would probably surprise you.

Through his role as science director of The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Assocation, or CASAA, Epidemiologist and health researcher Dr. Carl Phillips is working on summarizing all of the existing research on e-cigarettes.

Phillips said about a dozen studies have found e-cigarettes do not carry significant risks for users.

“Yes, there are trace amounts of harmful chemicals to be found in the liquid or the vapor. And by trace, I mean tiny,” Phillips said. “And you know what? There are trace amounts of harmful chemicals to be found in an apple, to be found in the air.”

In April 2011, the FDA announced plans to expand regulations of e-cigarettes under the Tobacco Control Act, but that has yet to happen.

As of now, several state and local governments have passed their own restrictions on the products.

Norris said whatever the research eventually shows, he’s okay with taking his chances.

“Can I sit here and tell you this will never have a long-term, ill health effect? No,” he said. “But, can I be absolutely comfortable in saying that this is a lot healthier for me than smoking? Without question.”

The FDA has an April 1 deadline to update Congress on its plans to expand regulation of e-cigarettes and other products containing nicotine.


  • TJinCA

    I can tell you right now, I smoked a pack of cigs a month ago. As of 5 days ago. I have smoked none, due to eCigs that my husband introduced me to. I gradually weened myself away from cigarettes, and it was incredibly easy. I had tried patches, inhalers, etc., to no avail. This has been a lifesaver for me, and so far I feel much, much better. I can't even think of going back to cigarettes right now.

  • John Trayhorn

    I have been a vaper for over a year now and feel much better for it! What amazes me is people who smoke continue to smoke even though it has be proven that tobacco based products are dangerous for your health. So why all the concern? Why are people so concerned about a product that has been proven to be safer, not safe (nothing is safe, heck even crossing the road is dangerous) if it's safer than tobacco then just switch to e-cigs and stop worrying.

  • Jim

    I used to smoke 1-2 packs every day, then I got Vapage and not only do I not smoke cigarettes anymore, ever. I only use my vapage ecig a few times a day. Love ecigs!

  • Billtown Chris

    It's great to see Fox 43 do a story about a product that is improving the lives of so many people both across PA, and across the country. One thing I wish would have been mentioned in the story, is the myth that nicotine is the dangerous element in a cigarette. As someone who has been using electronic cigarettes for a year and a half, and frequently talks to people/answers questions about them, I've found that people almost universally react by asking if these products have nicotine. When I tell them they do, them seem to feel that because they contain nicotine, they are just as harmful as cigarettes. In reality, there are 43 known carcinogens that are being inhaled in every puff of a traditional tobacco smoke, and zero known cancer causing agents in ecig vapor. Nicotine is an addictive substance, and is known to contribute to high blood pressure, and even heart disease, but not cancer.

    I would also like to have seen them talk about AEMSA, the eliquid industries new self regulation body, since one of the founding members is also a member of the White Rose Vapors. If Fox43 decides to do a follow story, I'd love to see them interview Dr. Jonathan Foulds of Penn State who an internationally recognized smoking cessation expert, who is currently conducting a study on ecigs for Penn State. I believe Dr. Foulds is based out of Hershey, PA.

    Lastly, I think there's a lot of confusion about the FDA's next step in regulation, and I believe the story misstated that. I don't believe the FDA has a "deadline" for dealing with ecig regulation, but they have announced they will release their "recommendations" for ecig regulation closer to the middle of April, rather than the first of April.

  • Kevin

    I have been smoking ecigs for over a year as well… and I LOOOVE them… but I think the main concern is that 10 years down the line, vapers start to get some sort of cancer or tumors or whatever from the lungs being exposed to high amounts of PG and VG. Yes, they're FDA approved for consumption, but not for this very high volume of inhalation. In all reality, we're all taking a risk by smoking these things. Will it do anything? Most likely not, but the concern is that it just might, and we all pretend that nothing negative will ever come of them. Again… I'm smoking them, too… but I'm also understanding that there is a reality to this situation that ecig advocates are not acknowledging. I would personally like a non bias analysis from the FDA that shows these ingredients are not dangerous, but I also know that the pharmaceutical industry as well as the government would love to get their hands on some of the money being made by the sale of ecigs, and that FDA analysis will always lean towards them, and not the consumer.

  • Joe McPlumber

    Kevin, speculation isn't a reality. And since you well know that the FDA is not going to provide a non-biased analysis i don't know why you even wrote that last sentence. By all the objective analysis thus far, e-cigs are vastly less harmful than the combustible ones. It's called harm reduction; lots of people are better off *now* in that they breathe easier, they are saving money, and they don't stink, just for starters. There's no "but" to that because the only time any of us get to live is right now.

    My advice is to buy all the cartomizers, batteries, and high nicotine liquid you can afford. Unless you want to risk having your only option being a return to cigarettes. That's one speculative future that scares me way more than tumors.

  • Debbie

    I think the main problem that the FDA and anti tobacco groups have with ecigs comes down to one thing–MONEY. The FDA is funded by the Pharmaceutical companies who see electronic cigarettes as a threat to their bottom line. The anti-tobacco organizations also receive grants and funding from the same companies.
    It is sad that a product that is not only healthier but is also creating jobs in this country is getting such a "bad rap".

  • Fiamma

    I smoked 55 years. The last 20 of those years at 2 cartons a week. I tried numerous times to quit, cold turkey, patch, gum, hypnosis, acupuncture. Nothing lasted longer that a couple of weeks and I was back on cigarettes.

    I am tobacco free now for 2 years as of 24 Feb 2013. I feel better, have much more lung capacity, can walk further and faster and I don't hack up a lung when I get up each day. E cigs are a godsend for me.

    I agree that people hear nicotine and conflate that with smoking tobacco. You can lay that at the feet of the FDA and the alphabet soup NGO's like Amer Lung and Amer Cancer Society who get their funding from pharmaceuticals.

    A lot of people think that tobacco is behind e cigs. Until very recently they had nothing to do with e cigs until Lorillard bought Blu and the rest of them started thinking about their revenue stream as they are seeing so many of us successfully quit and stay quit. Now a couple more of the big tobacco corps are moving in. I would not buy e liquid from them or use their products. They have a bad track record in that they lied about what was in their cigarettes more than once. I will continue to use e liquid that I know contains what I expect it to and nothing else.

    People your government agencies are lying to you about e cigs. FDA, CDC are funded by pharma in large numbers. They are totally at the beck and call of their masters. They say what will keep them fat with cash. The conflict of interest in the NGO's the FDA, the CDC and the scientists that anti THR people is rampant. They cannot be honest now because they have been lying for years and cherry picking or distorting facts, if not making up lies out of whole cloth.

    If they stringently regulate e cigs to the point where they are no longer effective for us, they will have won the day for pharmaceutical corps. Pharma is losing on NRT's the FDA approved Chantix which has killed people, and pharma sees now that their future drug market for treatment of smokers diseases will wither and die when we have all quit smoking cigarettes.

    When you follow the money you can see the lies.

  • Doug

    I have been smoke-free for nearly four years since I started using e-cigs. Just like a lot of other folks commenting here, I tried patches, gums, quitting cold turkey, and even hypnosis, and nothing worked until I picked up my first e-cig.

    The big problem with the FDA's proposal to deem e-cigs as a tobacco product is if they do that, most of the businesses here in the U.S. who are making and selling the devices and liquids will have to shut down. Until their products get tested and approved, they will not be allowed to sell them. These businesses can't afford the waiting period, and so the only e-cig companies that will be able to stay afloat will be the ones owned by tobacco companies. I'm sure no ex-smoker wants to go back to doing business with big tobacco.

  • hipmonkey

    I smoked for over 40 years and tried to quit for over a year using the standard methods available. Until I got an e-cigarette in Nov 2010 I just couldn't quit the nasty habit. Now that I've been vaping for 2 1/2 years and couldn't imagine being forced to go back to smoking. I hope the FDA would be more honest about protecting health and green light this device. A ban on e-cigs, or regulations that would render hem ineffective would be equal to mass murder (for profit) and I'll just have to figure out ways to keep vaping illegally for the benefit of my own health.

  • Kathy

    I have been a smoker for 28 years until I ordered an Ego ecig kit from… I am cigarette free. This has encouraged my husband to quit as well. We have tried many other methods to quit smoking numerous times without success. The staff with e-smokeonline have been informative and helpful with our transition.

  • Karen F Suttles

    I was recently told by an ENT doctor that I should cut back my smoking habit by at least half. I was smoking a pack and sometimes 1 and a half a day. This was Feb. 07 this year. My neighbor loaned me an E cig and a couple of cartridges for 2 days and I went straight online and bought my own set-up. My throat,sinuses, chest, copd … everything has improved. It would be such a travesty and very greedy for our government to yet again tax us for profit when so many people are feeling better. It seems we can't win. DONT SMOKE we raise the taxes!!! Now DONT TRY TO QUIT because we have you by the balls on that one too! I am so ARRRRRRAQAAAGGGHHHH blanking mad at this. ok thanks . peace KaREN

  • Dennis

    I Tried These Blu Cigarettes One Week Ago, I Am Proud To Say I No Longer Smoke Conventional Cigarettes! Dennis C. Connolly~

  • Tony

    The FDA's slogan is 'Protecting and promoting your Health'. So why are they trying to force me back onto my conventional cigarettes by banning ecigs!!

  • epapierosybialystok

    As a e-smoker for last 4 years I'm really happy that I quit traditional cigarettes. Banning will give only more money to tobacco companies! For some reason there is so small number of research about e-liquids. Can you imagine that on 2016 in Britain they want to make all e-cigs prescription medicines?

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