Taking a look at e-cigarettes: companies wait for regulation, helps others quit cigarettes

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by Matt Doyle

Milwaukee -  It's become a popular way to quit smoking.  But there's little, to no, evidence it helps people quit or that it's even safe.  We're talking about or "e-cigarettes" or vaping.

Some argue it's a great way to quit smoking.  Others say there's not enough research to back those claims, and not enough research to know if the e-cigarettes helping you quit are actually harming you in the process.

"It's like I'm going to the gym, can't breathe, stuff like that."

Matthew Martin smoked for almost a decade. 

"I gave it a try and you know, it's been a real big factor in me kind of weaning off tobacco products," Martin said.

He's been smoking e-cigarettes as a way to quit real cigarettes.

"It helps to avoid the cravings and stuff as a cleaner alternative."

Martin knows there could be risks, but thinks regular cigarettes pose more danger.

Doctors urge caution because the FDA has been slow to regulate the industry.

"There is very little research that has been done," Dr. Ileen Gilbert from Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin said. 

Gilbert worries about long-term effects.

"The perception that this is not harmful - will people inhale longer?,” Gilbert asks.  “What will happen to the lungs? These are just questions that we need to know before we unleash this on the public."

But it's already in public.  And here in Wisconsin-- it's becoming big business.

"We're seeing exponential growth, year after year,” Johnson Creek Enterprises CEO Christian Berkey said.  “100 percent plus growth each year."

Johnson Creek Enterprises is based in Hartland, Wisconsin.

Berkey says his rapidly expanding company makes its signature smoke juice.

In other words, the liquid used in electronic cigarettes. 

"Smokers who don't want to give up the sensation of smoking but want to be able to smoke in places they used to be able to smoke in," Berkey says, as he explains the draw to e-cigarettes.

Berkey smoked more than two packs of cigarettes a day in the past.  He thinks e-cigs are a better alternative to regular cigarettes - not something that helps you quit.

"We don't market electronic cigarettes as smoking cessation devices or healthy alternatives to cigarettes," Berkey said.

He also welcomes government regulation.

"When the FDA starts regulating our industry, it's going to bring a lot of really needed consistency and level of standards that's going to be great for our industry,” Berkey said.

But Dr. Gilbert does advise caution to consumers.

"I think as a consumer you need to be very well aware that what you are using is not being tested for safety,” Gilbert warns.  “So you are putting chemicals, you are inhaling chemicals into your body. You don't know what the long-term affect is."

With or without regulations, and despite concerns from health care providers - Martin thinks it's helping him. He hopes to be off smoking and vaping within a year.

"I think my biggest concern really was just finding something to transition off of hardcore tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars and things of that nature," he said. 

Berkey thinks the FDA will step in soon - possibly this year. He also noted Johnson Creek's target market is adult smokers.  He says they do not market to young people.  Critics argue since there are multiple flavors for e-cigarettes, that the target is younger people and teens.

Another note - the Wisconsin indoor smoking ban does not include e-cigarettes - but many said they'll ask bartenders before vaping.

 

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