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FALL RIVER, Mass. -- Like millions of other cigarette smokers, Carolyn Smeaton tried countless ways to reduce her three-pack-a-day habit during her 34 years of smoking, including a nicotine patch, nicotine gum and a prescription drug. But they didn't work.
Smeaton then tried an electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, after seeing it on a TV infomercial, which claimed to be a less dangerous method of getting her nicotine fix, The New York Times reported.
"I feel like this could save my life," Smeaton, 47, told the paper. She has reduced her smoking to a pack and a half daily, supplemented by her e-cigarette.
The battery-powered gadget delivers nicotine and flavoring to the user without cigarette tar or additives, and produces a vapor similar to tobacco smoke, the report stated. Because no smoke is made, the e-cigarettes can be used in workplaces, restaurants and airports.
Electronic cigarettes lack an approval by the government, but it has not stopped thousands of smokers from purchasing them online, at local malls and elsewhere, the Times reported.
For approximately $100 to $150, a user can buy a starter kit, which includes a battery-powered cigarette and replaceable nicotine cartridges. When a user inhales, a sensor heats the cartridge.
E-cigarettes have their opponents, however, who argue the products' safety claims are more rumor than fact, since the components of e-cigarettes have never been tested for safety, the report stated.
Public health officials have also argued the devices’ fruit flavors, novelty and ease of access may entice children, according to the report.
"It looks like a cigarette and is marketed as a cigarette," Jonathan P. Winickoff, an associate professor at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Tobacco Consortium, said in the report. "There’s nothing that prevents youth from getting addicted to nicotine."
The Food and Drug Administration even refused entry into the U.S. to dozens of shipments of e-cigarettes from China.
"These appear to be unapproved drug device products," Karen Riley, a spokeswoman for the agency, told the paper. "And as unapproved products they can’t enter the United States."
Sales and use of electronic cigarettes are illegal on safety grounds in Australia and Hong Kong, and other countries regulate them as medicinal devices or forbid advertising, the Times reported.
Matt Salmon, spokesman for the Electronic Cigarette Association, which represents six distributors, said e-cigarettes deliver a mixture of nicotine and water vapor, and emit "no carcinogens." While declining to give sales figures, Salmon told the paper "hundreds of thousands" of people used the products and that the average age of those users was the mid-40s.
"It’s a really good alternative for people who smoke tobacco," Salmon said.
Edwin Schwab, who quit smoking regular cigarettes last year after trying e-cigarettes, started selling them at a mall kiosk in Providence, R.I.
When he took his e-cigarette out one night, he said, "When everyone was smoking outside in the cold, I just stood in the warm bar, smoking."
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