Electronic cigarettes, which are often designed to mimic traditional cigarettes, use a heating element to vaporize a liquid solution that is then inhaled to provide a similar sensation to smoking.
An “e-cigarette” often runs on a rechargeable battery that is started by holding a power button. Some models light up an LED at the end of the cartridge to indicate the device is on.
The clear liquid inside of an e-cigarette contains nicotine, and often concentrated tobacco, fruit or coffee flavors as well.
Many users of e-cigarettes are trying to kick a smoking habit and want a device that is the same size and shape of a cigarette. Only in this case, the “smoker” is puffing steam into their lungs,
Rida Dari, owner of Royal Cigars and Tobacco at 1512 Roswell Road east of Powers Ferry Road, said smoking is 10 percent a physical addiction to nicotine and 90 percent a mental addiction to the habit.
“(Smokers) have to have something in their hands,” Dari said.
Dari opened his tobacco shop in February and started selling electronic cigarettes in August. Royal Cigars and Tobacco sells about five or six electronic cigarettes each week, with people returning to purchase more liquid to refill the devices, he said.
Some customers who were purchasing a pack or two of cigarettes each week are now only getting supplies for the electronic alternative, Dari said.
Sales of electronic cigarettes are already a billion- dollar industry in the United States and are expected to surpass traditional cigarette sales in 10 years, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.
Dari said there is a lot of competition in the market, with some products offering the “smoker” the ability to adjust the “harshness” of the steam by dispensing higher or lower levels of vapor to mimic either full-bodied or light varieties of cigarettes.
The itch for a nicotine fix
Electronic cigarettes are designed as an alternative that both satisfies cravings and reduces exposure to harmful chemicals and tar from tobacco.
But, Wesley Bray, a pulmonary specialist with WellStar Medical Group since 1986, said the companies manufacturing the products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so there is no way to verify the ingredients being inhaled are safe.
“If they are not controlled, we don’t know what kinds of things are added to those vaporized chemicals,” said Bray, who added that some tests of liquid substances have revealed toxic preservatives.
There is also little indication on the level of nicotine inhaled with each puff, which is more regulated in FDA-approved smoking cessation products like nicotine nasal sprays, inhalers, patches and gum, Bray said.
Bray, an expert on lung cancer, emphysema and smoking-related health-issues, said he recommends patients wanting to quit smoking tobacco to start with one of these proven methods that double the rate of success.
Either way, Bray said an electronic cigarette should not be used in the long term because using nicotine can lead to heart problems, vascular problems and increased risk of cancer.
Not to mention, nicotine is a highly addictive substance, which is why some safety advocates and physicians are worried teenagers will get hooked by the new wave of fancy electronic cigarettes.
“They do have a cool factor,” Bray said.
Regulating a new industry
Dari said employees of Royal Cigars and Tobacco check identification to verify customers purchasing products containing nicotine are older than 18, which is state law.
Doug Goodwin, spokesman with the Cobb County School District, said students, staff, visitors and volunteers are prohibited from using any tobacco products, or tobacco product substitutes, at any time while on school property or at school-sponsored events.
Goodwin said there has only been one disciplinary matter relating to electronic cigarettes so far this school year.
A student is given two to five days of out-of-school suspension for violating the policy, depending on the number of offenses.
Although Dari and other smoke shop owners might not sell tobacco or nicotine to minors, many safety advocates are pushing the FDA to ban the sale of e-cigarettes online. For now, a wide array of options and supplies for the new trend are available on the Internet.
Eric Baily, the state government relations director for the American Cancer Society office in Atlanta, said he also wants e-cigarettes to be included in city ordinances that make it illegal to smoke in public buildings and parks.
The vapor from electronic cigarettes looks similar to regular cigarette smoke and the distinction would be too hard to enforce, Baily said.
Business owners would have the burden of telling some customers they cannot smoke, while others use electronic devices, Bailey said. It would also require large buildings like airports and movie theaters to police what is being smoked or vaporized, instead of one entire ban.
“It goes beyond the issue of whether they are safe or not,” Baily said. “I think at this point we don’t understand the device itself.”