Electronic cigarettes offer a questionable alternative for tobacco users C

by Derek Offitzer
You’ve probably heard about them on the radio, seen them inmagazines, or even in commercials on television. Electronic cigarettes are coming on quickly. The first patented e-cigarette was sold in 2003, making them a relatively new product. For major tobacco companies, this product has become a multibillion-dollar industry in just a few years.
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“E-cigs” are proving to be quite the hot-button issue for both smokers and non-smokers. They may be a healthy alternative to regular cigarettes, but there are also many unknown chemicals used to create the product, making them quite controversial.
What are electronic cigarettes?
Electronic cigarettes are nicotine inhalers that are operated by a battery. They consist of an LED light that glows at the end of the device when a person takes in a puff. The light is designed to signify the burn of the end of a  traditional cigarette.
The device has a liquid inside that usually holds a chemical  called propylene glycol, along with nicotine, flavoring and other additives.
When a person “vapes,” or puffs, on an e-cig, a heating element boils the e-liquid, and it produces a vapor.
Are they expensive?
Electronic cigarettes vary in price. While starter kits usually run between $30 and $100, the estimated cost of replacement cartridges is about $600, compared to the more than $1,000 a year it costs to feed a pack-a-day tobacco cigarette habit, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.
Are they government regulated?
Since e-cigarettes are a new product, the FDA is still deciding what the restrictions on them should be. On one hand, the regulations may become as strict as those on regular cigarettes, but on the other hand, the restrictions may be completely different from those on regular cigarettes, considering that e-cigs can be viewed as a completely different product.
As of right now, there are very few limitations on the marketing activities of the electronic cigarette industry. While advertisements for the product are fairly common now, this could change.
“I see electronic cigarette companies using the same tactics as cigarette manufacturers to glamorize their products, and claiming that ‘they’re not that bad for you,’ which may hook kids and encourage current smokers to switch to their product instead of just quitting smoking all together,” said junior Cobi Silverstein.
Are they dangerous?
The phenomenon of electronic cigarettes is so new that scientists and researchers have barely had enough time to study the basic pros and cons.
An e-cigarette can contain the same amount of nicotine as a regular cigarette, and sometimes even more. The amount of nicotine in an e-cig depends on the content of the liquid-nicotine cartridge installed in it. While some cartridges are made with very low levels of nicotine, they still contain chemicals.
“Electronic cigarettes are a threat to people’s health because nicotine is still involved, and that  has negative health effects,” said senior Josh Lopez. “They’re growing so rapidly because people perceive them to have no  health effects at all, and they can be purchased fairly easily without tobacco laws applied.”
Researchers are unsure as to whether it is safe to inhale such a large amount of vapor without knowing what the chemicals inside can do to the body.
Some companies claim that studies have shown fewer chemicals in e-cigs than in regular cigarettes by a hefty number, but other studies still refute that finding.
A potential benefit to the consumption of electronic cigarettes is that they could help people trying to quit smoking. However, there is also the view point that smoking cigarettes in any form is detrimental to the body.
“Saying that they are safer than cigarettes just because they contain fewer chemicals is a little scary, because for all we know they could be just as bad as a cigarette,” said junior Ali Dorn. “I’ve seen that electronic cigarettes don’t make people stop smoking, but actually just lengthen their nicotine addiction.”
Do they produce secondhand smoke?
Another hot button in the electronic cigarette discussion is the possibility of secondhand smoke.
According to its website, the Food and Drug Administration claims that e-cigarettes are not emission-free. The administration released a statement in June 2013 saying that e-cigarettes contain volatile organic substances, including propylene glycol, flavors and nicotine, which are emitted into the air for others to breathe.
Although e-cigs may not have as strong a  scent as traditional cigarettes do, they can essentially cause just as much harm, especially since so little is known about the product.
­­   While the effects of this product are still up in the air, its possible harmful side effects are already having an impact across the nation. Legislation to ban the sale of e-cigs to teenagers is currently underway in Pennsylvania, after the Centers for Disease Control reported a trend in teens’ usage of the product.
“We need to make sure they don’t get into the hands of minors,” said Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, a sponsor of the bill (citizensvoice.com).