Consumer Reports: Mixed feelings on e-cigarettes

Chris Mikovits was a cigarette smoker for 25 years, but two years ago he was finally able to stop smoking -- tobacco cigarettes, that is. Now he uses what he calls a personal vaporizer, otherwise known as an electronic or e-cigarette.

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

Made to look and feel like traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are battery-operated electronic devices that deliver vaporized nicotine without the tar, smoke and tobacco found in regular cigarettes.

Consumer Reports' Jamie Kopf took a look at the studies and says some suggest they might be a last resort for smokers who've tried quitting again and again and failed.

"A recent study in the journal Tobacco Control found that methods like the nicotine patch and gum aren't as effective as we once thought," Kopf said.

However, Consumer Reports says e-cigarettes -- sold largely online, but in stores, too -- have not been approved by the FDA, so safety is a major concern.

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

While Mikovits believes e-cigarettes are a better option to regular ones, he realizes that more research is necessary.

"It needs studies, you know, to see all the different things behind it," Mikovits said.

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

Consumer Reports says there's another concern that's been raised about e-cigarettes: they could actually be a gateway that leads to the real thing. That's because these devices are easily available online to minors, and they come in enticing flavors like vanilla and pina colada.

Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union. Both Consumer Reports and Consumers Union are not-for-profit organizations that accept no advertising. Neither has any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.

(All Consumer Reports Material Copyright 2011. Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

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