E-cigarettes: Do benefits outweigh risks?

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

More and more tobacco companies are jumping into the "e-cigarette" market, considered the "wild, wild west," since it's without FDA regulations.

From celebrity commercials to candy flavors, some health officials worry who e-cigarette manufacturers may be targeting.

"You see all the commercials that cigarettes are so bad, which is true, then they say, it's a new, safe alternative," said Matt Majd who admitted e-cigarettes were popular at his high school.

"People think it's cool to do it in class and try not to let teachers see," said Majd who has also tried e-cigarettes himself.  "Just gives you somewhat of a buzz, somewhat of a head rush, kinda similar to the effect of cigarettes."

“It’s still troubling to see some actors in the industry real actively trying to recruit kids to their product,” said Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble.

Humble says the jury's still out as to whether e-cigarettes will serve their purpose as a safer alternative for smokers, or inadvertently get a new generation hooked.

"What I don't know yet is where electronic cigarettes lie on the scale; are there more benefits than risks?"

A recent CDC study found e-cigarette experimentation and use among middle and high school students doubled last year.  It’s too early to know if that will eventually lead them to smoking tobacco cigarettes.

"Once you've got a kid addicted to nicotine, now you've got an active potential smoker for the rest of their lives, because their brains get hardwired when they start smoking," said Humble.

Craig Weiss, President and CEO of Scottsdale based NJOY says his company goes out of its way to play by the rules from verifying age to advertising to smokers and smokers only.

Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona of Tucson sits on NJOY’s Board of Directors.

“We’re not interested in people who are underage,” said Weiss.  He said his target is the public health epidemic of smoking.

“We feel we’re helping people,” said Weiss.  “Smokers are already addicted to nicotine, and that’s the only customer I’m interested in.”

Weiss said his end game is a place with no tobacco.

“We want there to be reasonable regulation by the FDA, so everyone is playing by the same rules,” said Weiss.

When asked if he fears e-cigarette commercials are glamorizing smokers:

“I think of it as advertising,” said Weiss.  “It’s important for us to communicate to our smokers that they have an alternative.”

But health leaders worry what could happen if this now billion dollar business is left unregulated.

“The potential is there for these products to really do a lot of good, I honestly believe that,” said Will Humble.  “But not if they’re going to go after kids, not if they’re going to go after people who don’t smoke.”