Scientists uncertain if e-cigarettes are healthy or harmful

AURORA, Colo. - Electronic cigarettes are a growing trend as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes. But are they any healthier?

E-cigarettes are so new that scientists say they don't know how harmful they could be, or how much healthier than tobacco they are.

One thing they do know is that electronic cigarettes are gaining in popularity. Sales of electronic cigarettes, or vapers, surpassed the $1 billion mark in 2013.

Chris Burgess, owner of RiNo Vapes, opened his shop in April after seeing the success his brother had with a vaping store in Dallas. He said his business is growing and it's all been by word of mouth.

While some e-cigarette brands and shops market themselves as healthy alternatives to cigarettes, Burgess said he won't make that claim yet.

"We don’t know the effects yet," he said. "So we are not saying this is a quit smoking aid or anything like that. It’s an alternative."

Dr. Arnold Levinson, Director of the University of Colorado Health Smoking Cessation Service, says vaping actually can keep people smoking instead of acting as a cessation tool.

"If you’re using these devices because you think that they are safer, the evidence suggests that what they are doing is helping you keep smoking," he said. "The e-cigarettes did no better than nicotine patches in making people quit."

What isn't known is if e-cigarettes are any healthier than regular cigarettes. What few studies that have been conducted contradict each other. E-cigarettes contain less carcinogens than tobacco cigarettes. But it isn't known what the long-term effects of vaping are.

"What nobody will know and can’t know until we have years of experience," Levinson explained. "Is the cumulative effect of having that inhaled all the time over and over again for a lifetime."

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