CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – They come in rechargeable and disposable versions, a variety of flavors, and contain different amounts of nicotine. Electronic cigarettes, or "e-cigs," are used by many people as either a smoking substitute or a way to quit smoking altogether.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate them as they do with tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco, but it does intend to release a proposal on regulation next month.
"While we can't really sell them as a method of quitting smoking, because we aren't certified in that area, they do satisfy peoples' needs for nicotine," said Harold Barnes, who works at ElectraCigz in Lindale Mall.
Barnes said they can help people give up actual cigarettes, because they can dial the nicotine up or down according to their level of dependence. The battery-powered devices deliver nicotine through water vapor.
Barnes said that overall, the vapor is less harmful than smoke, but respects the fact that it still contains trace amounts of nicotine when exhaled.
"I tell people very openly, don't blow the vapor into your childrens' faces," Barnes said.
Many health experts seem to agree that smoking poses more health risks.
"Traditional tobacco kills more people annually than AIDS, car accidents, homicide, suicide, alcohol, cocaine, and heroin combined," said Katie Jones with the Linn County Public Health Department.
Jones said there are ongoing studies into how safe e-cigs really are, and how effective they are when used a quitting method.
"Some people use e-cigarettes to try and quit smoking, but we don't know how good they are at doing that," Jones explained.
The FDA intends to expand its regulatory power to include e-cigarettes, but has not commented on what sort of rules it will propose. It is expected to release its proposal as early as October.
Barnes even admits some people see e-cigs as nothing more than nicotine-delivery systems.
"And in that sense, they probably should be regulated to some degree," Barnes said.