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Jul 29, 2014 7:01 AM by Elizabeth Hill

E-Cigarette industry booming, but are they really a safer alternative?

"Nicotine is a toxin, it's a poison, it's highly addictive," says cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Mitchell Lirtzman.

And it's a major ingredient in the liquid used to fill E-cigs.

As cigarette smoke continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in the united states, with nearly half a million people dying every year, awareness about the hazards of tobacco smoke grows, but as these efforts grow, so does another industry.

E-cigarettes are now a two billion dollar industry that has grown rapidly in the last few years.

In 2007 E-cigarettes sales were only $7 million, making up just a small fraction of nicotine users. In 2012 that number jumped to $500 million and analysts predict in ten years, E-cig sales will be the same or even greater than cigarette sales.

E-cigarettes allow users to inhale nicotine, but without the hundreds of carcinogens shown to be in traditional cigarettes. Unlike nicotine patches or gum, E-cigarettes provide users with the familiar sensation of smoking.

Advertised as a safe alternative to cigarettes and a tool to help you quit smoking, it's clear why the E-cig business is booming, but many doctors and health advocates say it's not that simple.

"It's not a benign thing and it's not to be taken such."

Lirtzman sees first hand what tobacco use can do to a person's body he says while E-cigs don't contain the high levels of toxins and carcinogens like traditional cigarettes, the nicotine use alone can put you at a greater risk of heart attack and stroke and contact with the liquid can be dangerous.

"In high doses, which these highly concentrated refills are, can be fatal."

As E-cig use has grown so have incidents of nicotine poisoning. the CDC reports that in 2010 there was only one call per month regarding nicotine, in 2014 that jumped to 215 calls per month.

"The industry is doing a great job trying to make it seem harmless."

Tobacco Control Coordinator Rene Stansbury with Southwest Louisiana AHEC says E-cigarettes are far from harmless and even as a cessation aid are not proven effective.

"They don't get the same enjoyment, so they end up quitting using the E-cigarette and going back to smoking real cigarettes."

While not yet an FDA approved cessation aid, Lirtzman says the potential is there for E-cigs to be used like the patch or gum, a safer alternative to cigarettes, but not a permanent one.

"To transition to an E-cigarette that's just fine, as long as you eventually stop using it."

Lirtzman knows nicotine addiction is difficult to break free from and it's all the more reason not to start in the first place.

"It's not a cool thing and it's bad for your health."

For more information and resources for quitting smoking, click here.

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