E-cigarettes: A true remedy to quit or teen marketing tool?

SACRAMENTO, CA - Electronic cigarettes are offering smokers a cleaner, greener alternative. And for some, the alternative takes them one step closer to kicking the habit all together.

Ads for the “Smoking Everywhere” electronic cigarette claim the device “feels like a cigarette, looks like a cigarette, tastes like a cigarette.”

“It’s a lot cheaper than regular cigarettes, and it’s less dangerous,” said Aazi Sana with Natomas Cheaper Cigarettes.

Manufacturers claim that it’s a greener way to smoke with no tar, no ash, and no second-hand smoke. But there’s still plenty of nicotine.

Nicotine has kept Scott Whittlesey hooked for more than two decades. But, the idea of smoking less led him to switch to the e-cigarette last November.

“I do less and less puffing on this now,” Whittlesey said. “It’s healthier. It’s a healthier alternative.”

E-cigarettes run on a battery that could be charged in 30 minutes. Some even charge on your laptop. When the user inhales, the heating device converts the chemicals into a vapor that resembles smoke.

The e-cigarette comes in various nicotine levels- from zero to high and is offered in all sorts of flavors — from tobacco to chocolate to cherry.

“The place I go to has 100 flavors. They even have peanut butter,” said Whittlesey.

The flavors have reportedly been marketed to teens. While most stores strictly enforce the 18 and over rule, there are still questions about how a buyer’s age is verified when buying e-cigarettes online.

The California attorney general has filed suit against “Smoking Everywhere” for allegedly making misleading claims and for marketing to minors. They are one of the biggest e-cigarette retailers nationwide.

State Senator Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, is pushing a bill to prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.

The Electronic Cigarette Association responded, “Electronic cigarettes represent a smoking alternative for adult committed smokers. We have no interest in marketing or selling our products to underage smokers and have taken numerous steps over the years to prevent youth access to our products.”

E-cigarettes can cost anywhere from $35 up to $200 for a starter kit. That includes a cigarette, nicotine cartridges, and a charger.

Electronic cigarettes have been popular in China. They’ve also been popular in Europe. But the FDA has not formally approved the devices in the U.S.

Even so, Whittlesey says e-cigarettes have brought him closer to kicking the smoking habit.

“If I smoke a regular cigarette now, I can’t handle it. I start coughing,” said Whittlesey.

By Suzanne Phan, 31 March, 2010

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