5 On Your Side

E-cigarettes 'lesser of two evils'

Posted June 5, 2012 11:02 a.m. EDT
Updated June 5, 2012 6:28 p.m. EDT

Electronic cigarettes are an increasingly popular option for those trying to quit smoking, but they come with their own set of warnings.

Chris Mikovits turned to e-cigarettes after countless failed attempts to stop a 25-year habit of smoking tobacco cigarettes.

"I've tried everything there was out there to quit," he said. "With this, it was more like switching. I didn't have to completely knock out the habits and rituals I had."

E-cigarettes are battery operated and deliver vaporized nicotine without the tar, smoke and tobacco. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved them, so safety is a big concern.

"E-cigarettes vary widely, and it's unclear exactly which chemicals, other than nicotine, are in these devices," said Jamie Hirsch, with Consumer Reports. "Nicotine itself is extremely addictive and can cause harm, too."

Consumer Reports looked at different studies. Some suggest that e-cigarettes might serve as a last resort for smokers who have tried to quit repeatedly but failed.

Another concern with e-cigarettes is that they could actually lead to smoking the real things.

E-cigarettes are sold online in flavors such as vanilla and pina colada. In North Carolina, they are not regulated under the state's smoking ban.

Mikovits said he believes e-cigarettes are a better option, but he realizes that more research is needed.

"It needs studies to see all the different things behind it," he said.

"More in-depth health studies need to be done, and federal oversight of e-cigarettes is necessary," Hirsch said. "But for smokers who are having trouble quitting, e-cigarettes just may be the lesser of two evils."