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Every year in the United States alone, over 400,000 people die of tobacco-related diseases. Tens of millions die in other countries. E-cigarettes may offer a way for some people to stop smoking--so isn't that a good thing?

Hundreds of thousands of people die every year from diseases related to smoking, just in the United States. American tobacco companies have been sued over and over again, but they keep making profits, because 1 in 5 people in the USA, and even greater proportions of the populations of many countries in Europe and Asia, are hooked on cigarettes.

So you would think that when a device came along that delivers the nicotine smokers crave without the carcinogenic tar and chemicals, it would be given three cheers, hip-hip-hooray. But even the biggest advocates of electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, give them just one "hip."

What Are E-Cigarettes? And Who Uses Them?

E-cigarettes, for those who have not yet enountered them, are an electronic device with the look and feel of a cigarette that uses electric current to vaporize a tiny hit of nicotine and flavoring agents, without need of tobacco. The smoke-like vapor, often referred to as "vape," evaporates very quickly, but not before enough of the chemical reaches the lungs of the user to make a difference in how he or she feels.

E-cigarettes are quickly growing in popularity. In 2010, just 7% of American smokers said that they had tried e-cigarettes, according to an article published in February 2013 in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research. The next year, 21% of American smokers, three times as many as the previous year, said they had tried e-cigarettes, and the market for the tobacco-free devices continues to grow.

Although the law may change, e-cigarettes usually are not regulated as are regular cigarettes. Teenagers can easily access them, and cigarettes can be used in places where regular cigarettes are prohibited. If certain powerful forces have their way, however, all that will change.

Who Is Leading the Opposition to E-Cigarettes?

E-cigarettes have some powerful opponents. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association all want to make e-cigarettes as unpopular and stigmatized as regular cigarettes, and they want bans on e-cigarette advertising and use in public places.

New York City, which was in the forefront of banning regular cigarettes, is considering measures to ban electronic cigarettes. Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City’s health commissioner, claims that e-cigarettes have again made smoking socially acceptable, especially among teenagers, who bought twice as many of the devices in 2013 as in 2012. "Vaping," Farley says, leads to smoking regular cigarettes with all their accompanying health problems.

Does "Vaping" Really Lead to Smoking Regular Cigarettes?

But are electronic cigarettes really a "gateway drug" to smoking real tobacco products as some suggest? Even the New York City Health Commission admits "We don't know a lot about e-cigarettes." Here's what actual scientific research has found out:

  • Even though the number of teen users of e-cigarettes has doubled, in North Carolina, where many families depend on the tobacco industry for their income, only about 1% of teens use them.
  • Teenagers don't care whether e-cigarettes are plain or flavored.
  • Teenagers who already smoke are 10 times more likely to be willing to try e-cigarettes, although about 25% of tobacco smokers wouldn't bother.
  • Teenagers who don't smoke by and large don't want to try e-cigarettes, either.
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