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Pros and cons of electric cigarettes

Smoking is bad for you, and many smokers know it. However, that knowledge is not enough to keep millions of people across the globe from lighting up.

Though smoking was once a habit primarily associated with men, the reinvention of advertising geared toward female consumers persuaded women to light up as well, and now cigarettes are just as often associated with women as they are with men. Unfortunately, the negative side effects of smoking, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, are just as easily associated with women as men.

Over the years, numerous nicotine alternatives have been developed in the hopes of reducing the often damning effects of cigarettes. Recently, electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have emerged as a safer alternative to cigarettes. But are the claims too good to be true?

The idea for an e-cigarette emerged in 1963 when a patent was acquired by Herbert A. Gilbert. The concept was described as "... a smokeless non-tobacco cigarette ... to provide a safe and harmless means for and method of smoking by replacing burning tobacco and paper with heated, moist, flavored air..." Due to limitations in technology, and the fact that the negative health implications of cigarette smoking were not yet widely known, the device never came to fruition.

The modern-day e-cigarette was developed by Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik in 2003 and introduced to the general market in 2004. The first international patent was received in 2007. Since then there have been many incarnations of the e-cigarette produced by companies across the globe.

An e-cigarette is essentially a battery-powered device. It vaporizes nicotine held in a small cartridge so that it can be inhaled without the need for burning and the production of smoke. These devices have been designed to mimic the look and taste of a normal cigarette, which can satisfy the psychological and physiological effects of smoking.

Many people are drawn to e-cigarettes because they are odorless, which means that the traditional smell of cigarettes will not end up on their hands, hair and clothing. Air inside homes and other buildings also won't be tainted by cigarette smoke. Many businesses actually allow the use of e-cigarettes inside offices where traditional tobacco products are banned.

Another advantage of the e-cigarette is its cost in comparison to traditional cigarettes. Though a cost analysis depends largely on how much an individual smokes, it's generally cheaper to support an e-cigarette habit than it is to keep paying for traditional cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are reportedly free of the 4,000 chemicals, tar and carcinogens found in tobacco cigarettes. Varying strengths of nicotine in the e-cigarette cartridges mean they may also be used as smoking-cessation devices. Also, considering that it is nonflammable, there's no risk of starting a fire with an e-cigarette.

Currently there are no large-scale tests or clinical trials conducted to determine the safety and efficacy of e-cigarette devices. In the past, the Food and Drug Administration has attempted to prevent e-cigarettes from entering the United States. There have also been ongoing tests by the FDA to determine if safety claims are accurate. In May of 2009, the FDA's Division of Pharmaceutical Analysis tested the contents of cartridges sold by two separate vendors. Dyethylene glycol, a colorless, largely odorless, poisonous, and hygroscopic liquid with a sweetish taste, was found in some of the cartridges. In addition, tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) were found in many of the cartridges. Inconsistent nicotine amounts were also discovered.

NYU Langone professor Jonathan Whiteson, medical director of the Culinary and Pulmonary Wellness and Rehabilitation Program, has said that e-cigarettes are harmful to users' health.

"Dangerous chemicals have been identified in the vapor, not just nicotine, and they can potentially cause lung damage," Whiteson said. The professor also argues that there is no proof that these devices can be used as a method for quitting smoking, since they are still full of highly addictive nicotine.

E-cigarettes may or may not be a preferred method of reducing reliance on unhealthy cigarettes. Before purchasing them, it is best to read all reviews and safety information to determine a brand that is best for you.