E-cigarettes carry some risks

Posted March 16, 2014 2:24 p.m. EDT

“I used to smoke Marlboro lights, about 20 years, a pack a day."

When Alex Makam switched to e-cigarettes two years ago, something surprising happened.

"A whole bunch of senses started coming back,” he said. “I could smell things that I could not smelled before, food tasted better in the fact that I got my taste buds back.”

He now owns an e-cig store and vape lounge in Cary. He believes his customers can use e-cigarettes to wean themselves off of nicotine.

Sally Herndon, head of the state Department of Health's tobacco prevention and control branch, disagrees.

"E-cigarettes should not be marketed as a smoking cessation device," she said.

Herndon says right now it is illegal to market e-cigarettes as a health alternative without approval from the food and drug administration. Her main concern is the unknown health risks.

But consumers don't seem to be worried.

"I have a client who smokes, that was smoking 4 packs a day for 40 years," Makam said. “(Now) she's no longer smoking that. And she's come back several times and thanked me personally."

Stories like these are driving sales. Profits exploded from $500 million in 2012 to more than $1.5 billion dollars this year.

While its chump change compared to the $100 billion tobacco industry, a lot of smokers, including Makam, have seen positive improvements after making the switch.

"I always enjoy seeing people come in and their success stories,” he said. “It’s motivating for us."