Vapor vs. Smoke

Fans of electronic cigarettes say the devices can help people quit smoking and that e-cigs are healthier options than tobacco cigarettes, because they use vapor to deliver nicotine to the body instead of smoke. After all, it's the smoke from tobacco cigarettes that's been proven as one of the causes of cancer [source: American Cancer Society]. Electronic cigarettes, however, don't expose the consumer to the same toxic chemicals, because they don't use tobacco, or smoke, to deliver nicotine to the lungs. Instead, the device heats up a liquid-nicotine solution, which turns into a vapor that the user inhales.

Many people looking for a way to quit smoking are embracing the e-cigarette, reporting that the device has helped them quit or greatly cut down on tobacco-cigarette use [source: Kesmodel and Yadron]. Proponents of the e-cig say they experience less coughing and easier breathing with e-cigarettes compared to regular cigarettes, and they enjoy the absence of smoky odors and stained teeth. The e-cigarette, unlike nicotine replacement therapies such as the patch or gum, also offers many of the sensations and actions of regular cigarette smoking -- actually handling the device, and inhaling and exhaling a cloud of vapor that looks like smoke. Nicotine cartridges even come in tobacco flavor, to more closely mimic the experience of "real" smoking, though consumers also can opt for other flavors, such as chocolate or mint.

While some e-cigarette users continue to smoke tobacco cigarettes as well, many switch over completely. Some smokers are taking up the e-cigarette with the assumption that even though it hasn't been conclusively proven safe, it's worth the risk, because the harmful effects of regular cigarettes are well known. But are they making a wise decision, or simply trading one set of health risks for another?