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Ecigarettes Trigger Big Sales and Lots of Questions


What started out as an online, underground fad is now a billion dollar business. Electronic cigarettes- often called ecigarettes, really aren't cigarettes at all because there's no tobacco, no flame and no smoke. But there are still a lot of questions about where they can be used and whether they pose a health risk.

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[Esmoker Online store manager Dave Allen demonstrates an ecigarette with a lanyard accessory]

Esmokeronline store manager Dave Allen says ecigarettes are becoming so popular that his business, which began as an internet site being run out of a bedroom, now has two brick and mortar stores with plans to open a third. Ecigarettes are designed to look like cigarettes, but they’re electronic. When inhaled, they convert a nicotine laced liquid into a vapor that when exhaled looks like smoke. It’s called vaping. The liquids come in dozens of flavors like watermelon, bubblegum and caramel.  The devices themselves come in all kinds of fashionable and customizable styles. You can choose from neon pinks and greens, goth designs, bling designs or even a wood-toned executive look.  Allen says all those choices bring customers in the door.

“Or you get a lot of people coming in to just ask about how to get started in this whole thing and how it can help them quit smoking,” he says. Cheryl, a customer who declined to give her last name,  says that’s what brought her in. A smoker of 40-years, she says nothing she’s tried has brought her even close to quitting. “Chantix, hypnotism, acupressure…. Let’s think, yeah, been there done that,” she says.

WMFE: “So how’s this working for you?”

“Well, that’s why I’m here.  Um, I just haven’t been really able to engage.  The difference between smoke and steam, or vapor, you wouldn’t think it was that extreme, but it is. It’s different, ” says Cheryl.

That’s one of several big questions surrounding ecigarettes- can they help people quit smoking?  A new study from the University of Auckland in New Zealand shows that ecigarettes can be as effective as nicotine patches. However,  Janell Middents, spokesperson for the Orlando chapter of the American Lung Association,  says the ALA doesn’t support that strategy in part because ecigs are completely unregulated.

“The American Lung Association has really serious concerns about the potential health effects of ecigarettes, we really feel that we need to have a lot more research,” she says.

Esmoker Online’s Dave Allen says he’d like to see some product regulation because some of what’s being sold is nothing short of bootleg. “I would like to see that regulated, more sealed bottles and some kind of standard, like a health standard, when it comes to producing the liquid, ” he says.

Likewise, there are no clear rules about where ecigs can be used. Public opinion isn’t clear either. Leesburg resident Earnest Jones doesn’t like the idea of vaping in public.

“I just think, psychologically for me, as a bystander, it’s unsightly, it’s not what I would want to be around, it gives me questions, it makes me pause,” he says.

Two other people told us they’re ok with vaping in public. Policies vary. The University of Central Florida, Publix and Orlando International Airport are all treating ecigarettes like traditional cigarettes, meaning no vaping allowed.  A Walt Disney World Resorts spokesperson declined to address the issue with us. Universal Studios Orlando didn’t respond to our inquiries and Sea World Orlando says ecigarette use is permitted in designated smoking areas only. And what does the law say?  According to the Florida Department of Health, e-cigarettes are not regulated by the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act. That’s pretty much what Dave Allen tells his ecigarette customers.

“Legally, in the state of Florida, I tell people the truth, that they can smoke these anywhere,” he says. He says he does, however, encourage respect and discretion- maybe your kid’s basketball game isn’t the best place to pull out an ecigarette.  Which brings up another issue- are they being marketed to kids?  According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention- ecigarette use among middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012. Sherry Langston from Winter Park says her son switched from smoking to vaping with the hope that ecigarettes would help him quit nicotine altogether. He hasn’t quit and she’s now ambivalent about ecigarettes. “I do now know that big tobacco is selling them as well, so that can never be good,” she says.

Phillip Morris, R-J Reynolds and Lorillard have all jumped in to the e-cigarette market- which is expected to reach 1-point-7-billion dollars in sales by the end of 2013.  The Food and Drug Administration is considering regulations and FDA researchers are looking into whether common ingredients in e-cigarettes are harmful. 

 

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