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As e-cigarettes gain popularity, the debate over the benefits and risks of the products is likely to intensify, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

While some scientists say e-cigarettes can be useful in helping people quit smoking, while others say there has been minimal testing of the products, and there is no proof they help people quit. They also may come with their own health risks, some scientists note.

“They’re different from cigarettes, but you’re inhaling nicotine, and nicotine is a poison,” said Mohammad Siahpush, a professor in the College of Public Health at University of Nebraska Medical Center. He added that e-cigarettes are “probably a whole lot better than smoking.”

Dr. Michael Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health, who has reviewed the few studies that have been conducted on e-cigarettes, concludes they are “much safer than regular cigarettes.” He says since they satisfy the desire to hold something in the hands and mouth, they appear to be more effective than nicotine gum or patches. He acknowledges that the juices in e-cigarettes contain trace levels of cancer-causing contaminants called nitrosamines. He also notes that most juices used in e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which can be addictive and may contribute to cardiovascular disease.

Ray Story, CEO of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, estimates that 4 million Americans use e-cigarettes, up from 3 million last year.

E-cigarettes are designed to deliver nicotine in the form of a vapor, which is inhaled by the user. They usually have a rechargeable, battery-operated heating element, a replaceable cartridge with nicotine or other chemicals and a device called an atomizer that converts the contents of the cartridge into a vapor when heated. E-cigarettes often are made to look like regular cigarettes.

Public health groups say not enough is known about the health effects of e-cigarettes. They are also concerned e-cigarettes, which come in flavors such as cherry, chocolate and piña colada, are attractive to youth.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last April that it would regulate smokeless electronic cigarettes as tobacco products, treating them the same as traditional cigarettes. The FDA said it would not try to regulate e-cigarettes under stricter rules for drug-delivery devices. In 2010, the FDA lost a court case after it tried to treat e-cigarettes as drug-delivery devices, which must satisfy stricter requirements than tobacco products, including clinical trials to prove they are safe and effective.

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