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E-Cigarettes Under Fire

No-Smoke Electronic Cigarettes Draw Criticism From FDA, Medical Groups

E-Cigarettes: Good?

So what's an e-cigarette good for?

Different e-cigarette marketers stress different points:

  • For smokers who don't plan to quit tobacco, some firms point to e-cigarettes as a way to "smoke" in smoke-free environments such as airplane lounges, restaurants, and workplaces.
  • For smokers who don't want to give up their nicotine addiction, some firms suggest that switching to e-cigarettes will reduce the harm of their habit.
  • For smokers who want to quit, some firms suggest that e-cigarettes may help people transition from smokers to nonsmokers (the World Health Organization has asked marketers not to make this claim).

Craig Youngblood, president of the InLife e-cigarette company, says that since regular tobacco is very bad for you, something that assuages your nicotine habit without smoke must be less bad.

"In our product you have nicotine or no nicotine, PEG, and some flavoring. In cigarettes you have nicotine, PEG, and 4,000 chemicals and 43 carcinogens," Youngblood tells WebMD. "There are 45 to 50 million people already addicted to nicotine. Should they have the choice to satisfy their addiction by other means? ... I am a proponent of harm reduction. People have rights and choices and should be allowed to make them."

Youngblood says his company makes no health claims. He rejects the idea that his product is a smoking cessation device and says his company does not make that claim. He also says his product is not sold to minors.

Youngblood does make this claim: E-cigarettes are green.

"There is no pollution of the environment with this product," he says. "The vapor is not the same as smoke. And for every odor-free e-cigarette cartridge people throw in the trash, smokers throw 20 smelly cigarette butts out their car windows."

Some firms do suggest that e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco cigarettes. Most point to a Ruyan-funded study by tobacco researcher Murray Laugesen, MBChB, of Health New Zealand, a private research firm.

Laugesen analyzed Ruyan e-cigarettes and found nothing inherently bad in them -- that is, they contained what they said they contained and posed little threat of immediate harm.

But this was not a clinical study, notes Norman Edelman, MD, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, one of the organizations that has called for an FDA ban on e-cigarettes.

"Laugesen is trying to project what the effects of e-cigarettes might be, but he doesn't really know," Edelman tells WebMD. "There are no clinical studies of long-term use of these products."

And some firms do claim that e-cigarettes help people quit smoking. After all, there's an FDA-approved nicotine inhaler already in drug stores -- Pfizer's Nicotrol. It doesn't look much like a cigarette, but it doesn't look much different than some e-cigarette products.

What's the difference?

"The Nicotrol inhaler is an approved smoking cessation device," says the FDA's Chapelle. "Because these e-cigarette products haven't been reviewed by the agency, their labeling has to be reviewed, their intended use has to be reviewed, and all of their ingredients and components have to be reviewed."

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