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E-Cigarettes Under Fire

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

E-Cigarettes: Bad?

Edelman says nicotine addiction is bad and that people with the habit need help quitting, not help continuing their habit in more socially acceptable ways.

And there's no proof that e-cigarettes don't cause long-term harm. That's what bothers all the health experts who discussed e-cigarettes with WebMD.

"We cannot say they are good or bad because we don't have any scientific proof," says Eliana Mendes, MD, a pulmonology researcher at the University of Miami.

"What happens to someone who stops inhaling the tars of cigarettes and just inhales nicotine? We don't know," Edelman says. "We are talking about use that might be three years, five years, 10 years, we just don't know. Once you have the nicotine habit, you are not likely to quit."

Rather than quit, e-cigarettes might worsen users' nicotine habits, says Michael Eriksen, ScD, director of the institute of public health at Atlanta's Georgia State University and former director of CDC's office of smoking and health.

"I have seen no evidence that people switch from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes or other smokeless tobacco products," Eriksen tells WebMD. "If you look at how smokeless products are marketed, they are sold as something to use at times you can't smoke. The implication is you will increase nicotine exposure, not reduce smoking. We'll just be encouraging people to use more nicotine."

Youngblood says his e-cigarette products are being marketed only to people who already smoke and already have a nicotine addiction. But Eriksen says the unregulated sale of these products might get new users hooked -- users who might then start smoking.

"Will e-cigarettes get fewer people smoking? Or will people start with e-cigarettes and graduate to tobacco cigarettes? It is unknown whether these things are good, bad, or indifferent," he says. "If for every person who used e-cigarettes there was one fewer person smoking tobacco cigarettes, that would be good. But there is no evidence that will occur."

And there's one more issue that troubles doctors. University of Miami pediatrician and lung specialist Michael Light, PhD, says underage users will get their hands on e-cigarettes -- even if marketers like Youngblood refuse to sell them to minors.

"It will be easy for kids to get the product," Light tells WebMD. "It could be a way to get kids into the nicotine habit to get them to smoke. It is a ploy."

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Reviewed on April 13, 2009

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