"They are electronic, alternative smoking devices that simulate the
sensation of smoking. They do not expose the user, or others close by, to
harmful levels of cancer-causing agents and other dangerous chemicals
normally associated with traditional tobacco products."
-- Craig Youngblood, president of InLife, an e-cigarette company.
"They are nicotine delivery devices intended to be used like a cigarette.
What happens to someone who stops inhaling the tars of cigarettes and inhales
only nicotine? We don't know. There is at least the potential for
-- Norman Edelman, MD, chief medical officer, American Lung Association
"We are concerned about the potential for addiction and abuse of these
products. We don't want the public to perceive them as a safer alternative to
-- Rita Chapelle, FDA spokeswoman.
E-cigarettes don't make real smoke, yet they've ignited a firestorm of
You may have already seen e-cigarettes -- electronic cigarettes -- for sale
on the Internet or at one of at least 62 kiosks at malls across the U.S.
E-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes, their makers say or imply. But until
e-cigarettes are proven safe, the FDA is refusing to let them into the country
and may soon ban their sale, as major U.S. medical associations have asked.
"We have an open investigation into this issue," FDA spokeswoman Rita
Chappelle tells WebMD. "What is happening right now is FDA has reviewed several
e-cigarettes, e-cigars, and e-pipes, and have refused entry of these products
into the country. We acted because these products appear to require FDA
approval for marketing, and have not been reviewed by the agency."
An informal FDA review of some of these products "indicated that these
products are not currently approved," Chappelle says.
If the FDA bans e-cigarettes, an action many observers believe imminent, it
won't be the first North American agency to do so. Last month, Canada's health
agency banned the importation or sale of e-cigarette products.
What's all the fuss about? At the heart of the issue is a debate over what
the e-cigarette really is.
Like gunpowder, the e-cigarette is a Chinese invention. The first ones came
from the Ruyan company in 2004. According to media reports, Ruyan says it sold
300,000 e-cigarettes in 2008, and it's far from the only company making the
The e-cigarette comes in many shapes and sizes. Many look more or less like
long cigarettes; others look like cigars or pipes. They all work the same basic
The user inhales through a mouthpiece.
Air flow triggers a sensor that switches on a small, battery-powered
The heater vaporizes liquid nicotine in a small cartridge (it also
activates a light at the "lit" end of the e-cigarette). Users can opt for a
cartridge without nicotine.
The heater also vaporizes propylene glycol (PEG) in the cartridge. PEG is
the stuff of which theatrical smoke is made.
The user gets a puff of hot gas that feels a lot like tobacco smoke.
When the user exhales, there's a cloud of PEG vapor that looks like smoke.
The vapor quickly dissipates.
E-cigarettes contain no tobacco products; even the nicotine is
The devices retail for $100 to $200. Refill cartridge packs vary in price
depending on nicotine content, and liquid for do-it-yourself refills are sold,
too. Each cartridge is good for several uses.