Electronic Cigarettes Booming In Popularity, But Are They Safe?

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - The sale of electronic cigarettes in this country is booming. Three of the major cigarette companies are cashing in on the growing popularity of e-cigs. They’re selling them now. Even though they’re not FDA approved, more and more people are using them to kick the habit.

It’s getting tougher for smokers to find a place to light one up. That and other reasons are why more and more people are turning to electronic cigarettes. The battery operated e-cigs are designed to deliver heated nicotine through flavored water vapor.

Chris Ray says, “It started in 2009 and it’s safe to say sales have doubled everyyear since then.” Ray and his business partner own two Eco-Smoke stores in Huntsville. They set up shop in Huntsville two years ago and say business is good. The website promotes their electronic cigarettes as a smarter and less expensive way to smoke. Ray tells us, “The main difference is there’s no tar, no tobacco going into the lungs. You’re inhaling nicotine, food flavoring agents and propylene glycol.”

Bryant Castellow smoked for 33 years. He couldn’t smoke around his wife because of her breathing problems. He gave up cigarettes and started using an electronic cigarette three months ago. And he says he doesn’t miss cigarettes at all. “It’s working very well. I sleep better. The food tastes better,” Castellow told us. And since his e-cig smells like banana nut bread and caramel apple, his wife lets him smoke inside their home now.

Another customer, Justin Crisler, told us “I don’t really call myself a smoker anymore. I say that I quit smoking because I did. I quit smoking real cigarettes but I am vaping now and I’ll plan to continue that until the urge is gone.” Justin hasn’t had a cigarette in almost four months. He’s also set a goal to lay down the e-cig and be nicotine free in six months.

The nicotine delivery system can be customized to satisfy the nicotine levels of each customer with everything from no nicotine to what you’d find in an unfiltered cigarette, even light cigars. But are e-cigs safe? That depends on who you ask. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 44 million people smoke cigarettes in this country. And about one in five adults who smoke have tried an electronic cigarette.

Electronic cigarettes are not marketed as a way to help you quit smoking. “That is correct,” says Chris Ray. “The FDA does not approve this as a smoking cessation device therefore we do not in any way market it as a smoking cessation device. It is what it is. It’s an alternative. It is supposed to be a substitute for tobacco, period.” He says customers tell them they’re using the product to kick the habit. Ray added, “They can use that to wean themselves off tobacco and eventually nicotine.”

While some are vaping to get off cigarettes and even dipping, some have no intention of giving up either. “I will be a lifelong smoker,” says WZYP’s radios morning man Mojo. “I mean, I just will. I’m not looking to quit smoking to be honest with you.” Mojo doesn’t smoke at home around his kids so he vapes. He’s says puffing on an e-cig still allows him to enjoy the sensation of smoking when he’s somewhere he can’t light up. “For instance in the studio,” he said. “I can use my electronic cigarette because there is no smoke. It’s a water vapor.”

Business owner Chris Ray is nicotine free but still uses an electronic cigarette. Ray smiles and says, “ I’m not a smoker, I’m a vaper.” But is vaping safe? Sonya Tinsley responds to that question by simply saying, “We do not know if it’s safe.” Sonya smoked for 20 years but quit 11 years ago. She’s now a tobacco control coordinator for the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Tinsley says, “It took us years to learn about the true dangers of a cigarette so it’s going to take time with the e-cigarettes.” Electronic cigarettes are so new, we don’t know if they’re a safe alternative to smoking. “The FDA is doing a lot of studying on the e-cigarettes right now, Tinsley told us, “But it will take many years to do that.”

I asked Justin Crisler if he’s worried about the long term effects of vaping. He responded with, “There could be a long term effect possibly and I do worry about that. There’s no way around it but I still think it’s better than smoking a real cigarette.”

I also asked Sonya Tinsley if it’s safer to use an e-cig rather than smoking a cigarette. Her response was, “As of right now, we have not taken a stand on that because the data’s not in. We don’t know enough about the e-cigarette to recommend them.” The CDC says while it appears that e-cigarettes don’t have anywhere near the toxins found in smoke from traditional cigarettes, the long term health effects of vaping e-cigs could take years to determine.

We also wondered if people who fire them up in public places are breaking the law. In most cases, electronic cigarettes are not covered by smoking laws. Here in Huntsville for example, e-cigs weren’t around when the city adopted its smoking ordinance. So people aren’t doing anything illegal if they use them in a public place. City attorney Peter Joffrion tells us the council could amend the law to include e-cigs in the future, but so far it hasn’t come up.


  • the outlaw

    e-cigs consist of nicotine, water and propylene glycol. a study was done on the effects of propylene glycol on animals in a confined space for several months. it shown that there were no adverse side effects on the animals tested. nicotine isn’t good for anyone, but smoking cigarettes are terrible for your health. e-cigs lack about 1000 toxins that cigarettes contain. so as opposed to actually smoking, e-cigs are a lot safer.

    • michael jones

      There is over 4000 toxins in tobacco cigarettes.
      Nicotine in itself is not bad for you and has proved to be helpful in the treatment for Alzhiemers & ADhd since Pharmcy co”s found out in the 70″s

      • Jay

        @michael jones: isn’t nicotine is a poison?

        @everyone else: I have smoked cigs for 3 years specifically camel crush (the white box) I since quit and have been vaping for a year now. However, I have noticed that i cant say on one flavor for too long. Has anyone else noticed this?

  • Darlene

    I have been using them for 3 years. Both of my dr.s advocate me using them and one lets me use in her office. I have been off regular cigarettes for all this time. I smell better. Chantix worked for me for about 6 months and I felt really bad. With electronic cigs, you have then feel of smoking but not all the bad thing.It is no more bad for you than patches or gum.

  • Kathryn Winsett

    After 30 years of smoking, I switched to vaping in July. Yes it has nicotine, but doesn’t have tar and hundreds of other chemical additives. I know dozens of people that have made the switch. Every one of them is happy with their choice. Many of them have gradually cut down on their nicotine over time.

  • Sharon Wilson

    I have been using 1 for 3 mos. I feel so much better. No coughing, burning holes in my clothes or smelly body, and a lot cheaper on the pocketbook.

  • GE Perez

    I bought my first E-cig in June 2008. I smoked my last cigarette 5 months later. I have been using an Ecig for 5 years. Caffeine has a similar effect on your body as nicotine. Is it a perfect solution? No. Is it a step in the right direction in terms of Harm Reduction. YES!

  • GE Perez

    Oh, and Chris Ray got the year wrong. They were available locally from some tobacco outlets.I purchased an Njoy penstyle e-cig in 2008, that’s where I first saw them. They have evolved in quality, durability, battery life, variety of flavors and nicotine strengths.

    Check out The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (http://casaa.org/) for more information on what they are doing to keep e-cigs a viable alternative to smoking.

  • JoEllen Kirkland

    started using e -cig 3 weeks ago have not smoked any cigerettes since i bought it…i started with the 18 mg an now im using 12 mg i love them the best part is you can smoke them anywhere an you don’t smell stale all the time…I will continue to use the vapor ..

  • Vanessa Reed

    I own 2 Electronic Cigarettes stores and have had great success with people who have COPD. They are breathing better and using oxygen tanks less than before. They are also sleeping better and getting positive results from their pulmonary doctors.

    • the outlaw

      hi vanessa. my step-mother told me about your place. i was wondering if you carried any liquids with nicotine contents above 30mg? no one around here seems to carry any that strong. thanks.

  • JD

    I started with my ecig in September of 2012 and there is NO WAY I would EVER smoke an actual cigarette AGAIN. My lungs cleared up in two-weeks and my taste buds returned to normal as well. There is no combustion, tar, or any of the other 1000’s of carcinogens to be found within actual cigarettes and the savings, in contrast, are profound. Ecigs are the only way I have been able to kick the habit and thank goodness I did as well as my girlfriend. To be honest, I feel like a non-smoker.

  • Brad

    I smoked for 40 years and tried over those years to quit, cold turkey, patches, gum, and chantix. Always went back to smoking. I finally quit using an e-cig and vanilla flavored e juice. I am 57 years old and enjoy the many fruity and dessert flavors I can vape. I have found I can climb stairs with getting out of breath and myself, my car and my house do not smell like an ashtray anymore. I agree that children should not be able to purchase these devices but to remove them from adults, is simply the government trying to get back the tax dollars they lost when people started to quit smoking, which is something the government told us to do in the first place. I do NOT want to be put in with smokers. I do not smoke.

  • Bill Badger

    I have smoked cigarettes for over 30 years. I bought my e-cig a little over 3 months ago, I have not smoked a cigarette since, that day changed my life. I feel better, I dont smell, my kids love the fact I am not smoking, I am vaping. I am down to 6mg of nicotine and hope to be at zero soon. Is it the best thing health wise, no. But its A LOT better than cigarettes.

  • Roland Wright

    The people that I’ve been around sink a lot of money into getting started with electronic smokes, and within a month they have thrown them away and are back on tobacco . Glad to hear success stories, because the ones I’ve been around were 100% failures.

    • michael jones

      That is to do with not getting the correct gear from the start.Using an cig that looks like a tobacco cig is ok for a few days but then you need something better.Also people think because they smoked that they need a tobacco flavoured ecig,this not always correct,buy small bottles of different flavours including fruit and then try them.

    • Kathleen Vazquez

      And most stores will allow you to sample the flavors before buying. All of the stores that i am aware of are very knowledgeable and the community is very giving and very open with information. This is not something that is behind closed doors. There are forums, and chats held almost every hour of every day, and stores in every local town, filled with people that have the information to help people make informed decisions. All they have to do is ask.

  • Kathleen Vazquez

    I smoked for almost 40 years. I quit simply because i started using electronic cigarettes. PERIOD….. i tried patches, pills, cold turkey, and found that nothing worked. This worked, I realize that nicotine is still an addictive substance, i am after all an adult with an education, and i did my homework and i did make the informed decision that i would rather choose this over the thousands of horrid chemicals that tobacco cigarettes have in them. I smell better, i feel better, and i have not for one day regretted my decision. I spend way less money, money that i now spend on my grandchildren, and im positive i have added years on my life that i will be able to spend with them.

  • FreierBuerger

    Positive effects of small doses of nicotine:
    improved mental performance, overnight performance on various memory & attention tasks improved, faster performance on Stroop and word classification, may exert direct beneficial effects on novelty detection and subsequent memory recognition, improved prospective memory (things one intends to do), reaction time is improved, as is inspection time and visual search, pilots’ performance enhanced, improves late-day piloting, driving performance enhanced, can improve handwriting, helps ADHD (results indicate significant clinician-rated global improvement, self-rated vigor and concentration, and improved performance on chronometric measures of attention and timing accuracy), may help depression, may help symptoms of schizophrenia via increased synthesis of GABA & increased effectiveness of cognitive training, may protect against Parkinson’s & Alzheimers.

  • Lee Smith

    I smoked for over 30 years. Due to health issues I promised my family I would listen about vaping. I went to a local store with no intentions of quitting and my family knew it. The local business I went to was fantastic. The knowledge , the customer service and personalized equipment and liquids was a step by step no rush processes based all on my comfort level. I agreed that night to try it still adamant I was not quitting. The initial purchase was a little more than I wanted to pay but I made a promise to my family. I had my device 24 hours and while driving to work I lit a cigarette. In the 15 minutes it took me to get to work I was so sick. That was 3 months ago. My family got the privilege of destroying my last pack of cigarettes. I never had the thought I was quitting but that is just what happened. I have so much freedom not being tied to a pack of cigarettes. I learned to paint stained glass so I painted my tanks. I can mix and match my own flavors and oddly enough none of them are tobacco flavored. The support and openness of the vaping community is incredible. Due to my experience my children switched with much thanks and gratitude to the vaping community. I got to throw away their cigarettes.

  • Kim

    My family is testimony to the fact that yes they do help you quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. I was diagnosed with COPD at the age of 41 and had to use an inhaler just to walk to the mailbox and back. I purchased the e-cig and quit smoking the tobacco. I no longer have to use my inhaler like I did, usually only now and then in the summer time when it is extremely hot and humid. My father that smoked for 50+ years saw me use my ecig and decided to try it, he is now 2 years tobacco free. Also my son, my daughter, and my son n law now only use the ecigs. So yes it does help to quit tobacco cigs and you smell better, taste better and feel better!! And about nicotine, you get nicotene naturally in your body from eating.

  • Darrin

    The Government just wonts there cut of the money from e cig’s, that is what all the fuss is about, they will end up making the people that sell e cigs give them a cut, it all comes down to money, they could care less if it helps anyone stop smoking, that is how they get there money…think about it….

  • Sarah

    Electronic cigarettes helped me quit. 5 months cigarette free and 2 months nicotine free! Used electronic cigarettes for 3 months after I quit regular cigarettes and quit electronic cigarettes 2 months later.

  • Richard Thomas

    They are safer. I’ve been doing this for two years now. I will not say they are perfect. Because with other quit methods it wasn’t nearly as easy to quit. So Murphy’s law tells me that there must be some risk. But I could not even fathom a way that these things could be near as dangerous as the old tobacco. By the way. Congrats to everyone that uses this to enjoy the quit. Don’t let anyone tell you that it is still smoking. Because you must have smoke for that to be true. Chewing snuff still delivers nicotine. But no one accuses them of being smokers.

  • rick

    I smoked for 35 years tobacco cigarettes and have been using e cigs for 9 months and have given up the tobacco habit and feel so much better now. There is no odor or chemical concern in e cigs and best of all it doesn t effect others in a room around me. I ve used them in hospitals, air ports, air planes, cafes, restaurants, shopping centres, movies and on and on. My wife hated me smoking tobacco and I vape in our home and in my work vehicle where tobacco is forbidden. With out this product I would never have quit cigarettes. Only death would have.

  • Jill Friedman

    Nicotine is not a benign substance, and people have a right NOT to be forced to breathe any substance against their will. And some of these e-cigs are made to look exactly like real cigarettes in order to cause confusion and interfere with enforcement of smokefree policies. Nicotine addicts need to find a way to get their fix that does not affect other people. Vaping should be confined to private homes and outdoor areas and e-cigs should be made to look different from actual cigarettes.

  • Kathleen Vazquez

    Have you actually read any of the information being offered, the “substance” is water vapor. And as for looking different. My electronic cigarette is Hot pink, and i have one that is purple with little hello kitty’s on it. So i think i meet your criteria, or should i go hide in the shed, like a leper from the stone ages? I am very courteous when i vape, as i was when i was a smoker, that has nothing to do with what your doing but the person you are. We dont vape in areas where it is not allowed. I hope you have a fabulous Holiday :D….

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