The electronic cigarette was introduced to the U.S. market in 2007 and offers the nicotine-addicted an alternative to smoking tobacco. Most "e-cigs" are similar enough in appearance to be mistaken for regular cigarettes, but one look inside and you'll see the main difference: E-cigarettes don't contain tobacco. Instead, there's a mechanism that heats up liquid nicotine, which turns into a vapor that smokers inhale and exhale. Manufacturers and satisfied customers say that this nicotine vapor offers many advantages over traditional cigarette smoke. But regulatory agencies and some health experts aren't sure. They're asking questions about the possible side effects of inhaling nicotine vapor, as well as other health risks e-cigarettes may pose -- both to users and to the public. Those calling for tight regulations on e-cigarettes claim that these devices should be deemed illegal until the proper research trials have been conducted to prove that they're safe.
Because they contain no tobacco, e-cigarettes aren't subject to U.S. tobacco laws, which means they can be purchased without proof of age, especially online. This raises concerns that e-cigs may be particularly appealing to kids and may encourage nicotine addiction among young people. And while manufacturers of the e-cigarette claim that it's the cigarette you can "smoke" anywhere, regulatory agencies around the world are taking a close look at these gadgets and instituting a range of restrictions on their use.
Proponents of the e-cigarette say they feel better using the device than they did when they were smoking tobacco cigarettes, and that because the e-cigarette is reusable, it saves them money. Some praise the e-cig for helping them quit smoking. But is the e-cigarette as safe as its users -- including celebrities like Katherine Heigl -- believe? Is it a healthier option, or a riskier choice? And what does the FDA have to do with it? Before you consider taking up the e-cigarette habit, read on to get the facts.