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E-Cigarettes Under Fire

No-Smoke Electronic Cigarettes Draw Criticism From FDA, Medical Groups
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What's an E-Cigarette? continued...

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 way:

  • The user inhales through a mouthpiece.
  • Air flow triggers a sensor that switches on a small, battery-powered heater.
  • 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 synthetic.

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.

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."

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