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February 23, 2014

Consumer Reports: E-cigarettes - Still many questions

Maybe a friend or family member uses one. Or maybe you’re using one yourself to try to kick a tobacco habit.

Whatever your experience is with electronic cigarettes, it seems that the battery-powered devices, which deliver a form of nicotine and mimic the feel of traditional cigarettes, are here to stay, according to Consumer Reports. Sales grew from about $500 million in 2012 to an estimated $1.5 billion in 2013. That’s a fraction of the tobacco cigarette market — roughly $100 billion per year — but reflects a 200 percent growth, in contrast to the steady decline in tobacco cigarette sales.

E-cigarettes are marketed as a more socially permissible alternative to smoking. But what exactly are users — and the people around them — breathing in? Are the cigarettes safe? And with kid-friendly flavors such as Cherry Crush, Peach Schnapps and Vivid Vanilla, who are they really being marketed to? Consumer Reports supplies answers to some key questions about electronic cigarettes.

What’s in them? The main component is a refillable or replaceable cartridge of liquid “juice” that contains nicotine, solvents and flavors. When users draw on the device, it causes the battery to heat the liquid solution, which is then atomized into an inhalable vapor. The claimed levels of nicotine vary. Blu e-cigs, for example, offer cartridges of varying strengths, from no nicotine to approximately 13 to 16 milligrams, with each cartridge containing enough for 250 or more “puffs.” Some other brands list nicotine as a percentage of volume.

How are they regulated? At the moment, they aren’t. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to release a proposed rule that would allow the agency to regulate them as they do tobacco products. That could result in restrictions on the advertising or sale to minors and would probably require companies to disclose ingredients and conform to certain manufacturing standards. In the meantime, some states and municipalities — most recently New York City — have enacted bans on e-cigarettes in public parks and indoor venues where cigarette smoking isn’t allowed. You can find a list of local bans at no-smoke.org/pdf/ecigslaws.pdf.

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