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One-fifth of U.S. adult smokers have tried e-cigarettes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this week. The percentage of smokers who tried the battery-powered devices jumped to 21 percent in 2011, from about 10 percent the previous year.

Overall, 6 percent of adults have tried e-cigarettes, HealthDay reports. The CDC found 60 percent of adults were aware of e-cigarettes in 2011, compared with 40 percent in 2010.

“E-cigarette use is growing rapidly. There is still a lot we don’t know about these products, including whether they will decrease or increase use of traditional cigarettes,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a news release. E-cigarettes appear to have far fewer toxins than traditional cigarettes, but the impact of the devices on long-term health requires more research, the CDC researchers said.

They also called for more studies on how e-cigarette marketing may affect the use of traditional cigarettes, particularly among young people. “If large numbers of adult smokers become users of both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes — rather than using e-cigarettes to quit cigarettes completely — the net public health effect could be quite negative,” said Dr. Tim McAfee, Director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health.

An international survey released last month found 80 percent of people who use e-cigarettes do so because they consider the products less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

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.

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