'Wild West' Of Electronic Cigarettes Is Multi-Billion Dollar Industry

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PORTLAND, OR (KPTV/CNN) -- Health advocates are calling it the "Wild West" of electronic cigarettes.

It's a booming multi-billion dollar industry with no regulations, no laws prohibiting the sale to minors, and no studies on the long-term effects of using the product.

Many long-term smokers tell FOX 12 they are using the new devices to quit smoking and start "vaping." The electronic cigarettes heat a mixture of liquid nicotine and other chemicals into a vapor that is inhaled by users.

"A majority of our customers come in to quit smoking," said Aren Thomassians, who opened up Henry's E-Cigs in Beaverton last October after she and her husband began using the devices.

"You have to believe in the product that you're selling."

There are no laws regulating the industry. In fact, Thomassians said she contacted her attorney before posting a sign on her door prohibiting minors, worried that she could be sued for turning them away.

"As a personal choice a lot of stores have put '18 and above' and check ID for it," Thomassians said.

Henry's carries a variety of bands and flavors like butterscotch, cotton candy and even bacon. The ingredients in the "e-juice" are not always listed on the container. They are not regulated either.

In fact, you can legally make it right at home, as vaping-advocate Tomi Deveraux demonstrated for FOX 12.

"It's not exactly baking cookies," Deveraux said.

Deveraux is a registered nurse but says anyone with a little high school chemistry can do it. She uses an app on her tablet computer to measure ingredients, buys liquid nicotine on the internet, and then dilutes it with chemicals anyone can pick up at the grocery store.

"It's cheaper and I know exactly what's in it," Deveraux said.

With a few drops of flavor, the mixture is ready to heat and inhale.

"Tastes like lemon sweat tea," Deveraux said as she took her first puff of the batch.

Deveraux says the devices helped her quit smoking when nothing else worked.

"We don't really have a good answer," said Wendy Bjornson, director of OHSU's smoking cessation program.

The danger of smoking is well established: there are 70 known carcinogens in one cigarette, according to the American Lung Association, but nicotine itself is not one of them.

"It affects your mood," said Bjornson. "It affects how your body functions."

Bjornson says she doesn't know what advice to give to former smokers who have become "vapers."

"We just really don't know all the health consequences that are attached to using these electronic cigarettes yet," Bjornson said.

And while many users say the new trend is helping them kick a deadly habit, Bjornson worries the sweet temptation may have teens picking up nicotine for the first time.

"I think there is always this concern about gateway substances and gateway use," Bjornson said.

In April, the Food and Drug Administration proposed some rules to regulate the electronic cigarette industry which include banning the sale to minors, streamlining ingredients and new warning labels.

They are currently taking public comments on the proposals.


Posted by Greg Palmer