MIAMI (CBS4) – Forty-six million Americas buy tobacco products each year, but one alternative for them is getting a lot of attention – electronic cigarettes.
This year they will become a billion dollar industry, but their popularity is raising questions on how safe they really are.
“I’m 31 now and I’ve been smoking since I was 13 and gradually over the years I smoked more and more until I reached the two pack a day mark” said Oscar Rodriguez.
Rodriguez made the switch to electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs.
“I was lucky to have quit gradually and now I can’t imagine going back to cigarettes,” said Rodriguez.
E-cigs are battery powered devices that mimic the sensation of smoking a real cigarette without tobacco and without combustion. They deliver nicotine through a smoke like vapor and when exhaled there’s no odor.
E-cigs have actually been on the market for almost a decade but in the past few months the industry has exploded.
In 2011, sales of e-cigs were around $300 million. In 2012 they doubled to $600 million. This year analysts say that number will most likely triple to nearly $2 billion dollars. But that’s just a fraction of the $80 billion dollars Americans will spend on traditional smoking products.
So with so many Americans opting for them many have wondered if e-cigarettes safer?
Lung specialist Dr. Richard Thurer, from University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine believes they are – somewhat.
“While e-cigarettes, as far as the lungs are concerned, are somewhat safer the cardiovascular effects of nicotine still remain,” said Thurer.
The effects of nicotine include high blood pressure and constriction of the body’s arteries.
It’s still unclear how much safer e-cigarettes mostly because there is no federal oversight over them.
The FDA does not currently regulate e-cigs meaning manufacturers don’t have to disclose what’s inside.
“There’s not been very many studies on them and studies they have done indicate that there are different compounds that differ between different manufacturers,” said Thurer.
Despite the question marks surrounding their safety, Rodriguez said there is no question how much they have helped him.
“I have a lot more lung capacity, more energy, pigmentation of my skin, I sleep better at night and I can go on and on,” said Rodriguez.
Big tobacco companies are not watching the booming sales of e-cigs from the side lines, they are cashing in too. Each of the three big tobacco companies has introduced its own e-cigarette or bought an existing brand.