DeKALB – Abraham Mustafa sees advantages to smoking electronic cigarettes.
Mustafa, owner of Smoker’s World in DeKalb, makes an average of two electronic cigarette sales a week. The store has been selling the cigarettes – a smoking device that produces a nicotine vapor instead of smoke – for about a year. His store sells kits that come with two packs of e-cigarette cartridges, batteries and a charger.
They can be smoked anywhere, he said, and they cost less than regular cigarettes.
“You don’t have to light the cigarette, and you can smoke any amount of it,” Mustafa said. “Before, you had to either finish it or throw it away.”
E-cigarettes, which were first marketed in China in 2004, produce a fine, heated mist that is absorbed into the lungs. Most come with a rechargeable, battery-operated heating element, a nonreusable cartridge that typically contains nicotine or other substances, and an “automizer” that converts nicotine to a vapor when heated.
Despite some of the apparent advantages of the new devices, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association of Illinois do not advocate using e-cigarettes because the Food and Drug Administration has not thoroughly tested and approved them.
“They’re not all created equal,” said Erin Shaffer, regional director for the American Cancer Society’s Fox Valley area. “Some of them have trace amounts of nicotine and carcinogens.”
Shaffer said ingredients vary widely in the e-cigarette brands that have been tested by the FDA, and one brand included chemicals found in antifreeze. During a limited study, the FDA also found that e-cigarettes labeled as nicotine-free actually contained the substance, and different amounts of nicotine were emitted each time it was inhaled.
In early September, the FDA issued warnings to five e-cigarette manufacturers for violations, including unsubstantiated claims and poor manufacturing practices.
“At first we thought this was a neat new way to help people stop smoking,” Shaffer said. “But it hasn’t proved to be a safe alternative, and it hasn’t proved to help people stop smoking, which is unfortunate.”
She said the FDA is working to enforce regulation of e-cigarettes, but until then, she recommends those looking to quit the habit use smoking cessation products already approved by the FDA.
“It’s really hard to quit smoking,” Shaffer said. “It takes most people seven to 10 tries, so if you don’t get it the first time, don’t give up.”
Manfred James, director of e-healthcigarettes.com, a California-based website that distributes e-cigarettes manufactured in China, said the e-cigarettes he sells contain propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin, which are found in food additives. Buying cartridges with different levels of nicotine and flavoring is optional.
“It’s for people who don’t want to quit smoking, but want to have a safer way to smoke,” he said.
James said e-cigarettes are popular because smokers who are trying to quit are also trying to break outward physical habits, like simply holding a cigarette.
He said business has doubled since his company began selling the devices almost a year-and-a-half ago. Kathy Drea, vice president of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Illinois, said e-cigarettes are being tested specifically as “drug delivery devices” and advises people to wait until the FDA can regulate what’s in them.
The FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research said there were “potentially harmful volatile components” in vaporized nicotine, according to a 2009 report.
Limited FDA laboratory studies of certain e-cigarette samples found “significant quality issues,” which indicated substandard or no quality control during the manufacturing process.
“We don’t know anything because they haven’t been tested,” Drea said. “That’s the problem.”