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E-Cigarettes: Separating Fiction From Fact

Health experts say more research needed into the devices' safety and effectiveness as a quit-smoking tool

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"E-cigarettes didn't do worse than the patch, and there were no differences in the adverse events," she said. "I would be happy if it turned out to be a safe and effective alternative for quitting, but we need a few more large trials for safety and efficacy."

Strauss noted that "although we can't say with certainty that e-cigarettes are an effective way to quit, people are using them" for that purpose. "Some people have told me that e-cigarettes are like a godsend," he said.

Former smoker Elizabeth Phillips would agree. She's been smoke-free since July 2012 with the help of e-cigarettes, which she used for about eight months after giving up tobacco cigarettes.

"E-cigarettes allowed me to gradually quit smoking without completely removing myself from the physical actions and social experience associated with smoking," Phillips said. "I consider my e-cigarette experience as a baby step that changed my life."

Are e-cigarettes approved or regulated by the government?

E-cigarettes are not currently regulated in a specific way by the FDA. The agency would like to change this, however, and last April filed a request for the authority to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product.

The attorneys general of 40 states agree that electronic cigarettes should be regulated and sent a letter to the FDA in September requesting oversight of the products. They contend that e-cigarettes are being marketed to children; some brands have fruit and candy flavors or are advertising with cartoon characters. And, they note that the health effects of e-cigarettes have not been well-studied, especially in children.

Are e-cigarettes dangerous?

"It's not the nicotine in cigarettes that kills you, and the nicotine in e-cigarettes probably won't really hurt you either, but again, it hasn't been studied," Strauss said. "Is smoking something out of a metal and plastic container safer than a cigarette? Cigarettes are already so bad for you it's hard to imagine anything worse. But, it's a risk/benefit analysis. For a parent trying to quit, we know that secondhand smoke is a huge risk to kids, so if an electronic cigarette keeps you from smoking, maybe you'd be helping kids with asthma or saving babies."

But on the flip side, he said, in former smokers, using an e-cigarette could trigger the urge to smoke again.

The other big concern is children using e-cigarettes.

"More and more middle and high school kids are using e-cigarettes," Tindle said. "Some are smoking conventional cigarettes, too. The latest data from the CDC found the rate of teens reporting ever having used an e-cigarette doubled in just a year. We could be creating new nicotine addicts. We don't know what the addictive properties of e-cigarettes are," she added.

"It's shocking that they've been allowed to sell to minors," Tindle said.

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