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E-Cigarettes: What’s the Story on Safety?

PHOTO: Electronic cigarettes are growing in popularity, and while they may appear to be less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, experts say more research about their safety is needed.
PHOTO: Electronic cigarettes are growing in popularity, and while they may appear to be less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, experts say more research about their safety is needed.
February 25, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS - Electronic cigarettes are growing in popularity, with celebrities in advertisements touting them as a safer alternative to smoking the real thing. But experts say there isn't enough science to back up those claims.

It's estimated that there are more than 250 different e-cigarette brands for sale in the U.S. today, and since they are unregulated, according to Terry Tolliver, deputy director for consumer protection in the Indiana Office of the Attorney General, manufacturers are not being held accountable for potential health risks.

"It's similar to what had been going on with tobacco in years past," Tolliver declared. "In many ways, the arguments are the same and then the same issues are popping up again. It seems like we're just going back in the past, so all the changes that were made for tobacco just really need to be applied to these e-cigarettes."

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed a rule that would allow the agency to regulate e-cigarettes as they do tobacco products.

According to Consumer Reports, sales of e-cigarettes hit $1.5 billion in 2013, nearly triple the previous year's total sales.

Thomas Glynn, director of cancer science and trends at the American Cancer Society, said a tobacco cigarette contains thousands of chemicals, dozens of which are carcinogenic. And he said that while e-cigarettes should be considered less harmful, there is little research about the effects of the chemicals in them.

"Propylene glycol is the chemical in e-cigarettes that makes the vapor that comes out of them. While that has been approved by the FDA for use in food, we don't know what the long-term effects of actually inhaling propylene glycol is."

A law was passed last year in Indiana banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. And Tolliver advised all other Hoosiers to use caution with these products.

"With e-cigarettes being imported from who-knows-where and not knowing what's going on in those factories, consumers just need to be aware of what they're getting themselves into."

Tolliver said that if consumers have concerns about e-cigarettes they can file a complaint at IndianaConsumer.com.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN