As smoking bans become more widespread, some cigarette smokers have turned to so-called 'electronic cigarettes.' But health experts says it's too soon to say whether e-cigarettes are safe.
Instead of burning tobacco, Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, or e-cigarettes, have a heating element that vaporizes a solution of nicotine to inhale.
A survey in four countries led by Roswell Park Cancer Institute shows there is growing awareness of 'electronic cigarettes' among smokers. The study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows nearly 80 percent of users believe the devices are less harmful.
The devices do help smokers avoid indoor smoking bans and they're a cheaper alternative to costly tobacco cigarettes. But based on current users in the study, among the 85 percent who indicated they use the devices to help them quit smoking, only 11 percent say they have have succeeded.
"I think the biggest concern that people have in tobacco control and public health is that they could be attractive to youth or they could prevent people from quitting smoking entirely," said Director of the Tobacco Research Laboratory at Roswell Park Dr. Richard O'Connor.
'There's relatively low success in quitting smoking on a given attempt, anyway," O'Connor said. "A large majority of them are looking at them as a way to get them off cigarettes. Whether they actually succeed in the long-term is something we plan to look at as we continue doing more surveys."
O'Connor points out e-cigarettes first hit the market in 2003 and only gained popularity the past four years.
"There's limited data available because they've only been out a relatively short period of time," O'Connor says. "So isn't a large extensive epidemiology of their use or their long-term health effects."
O'Connor points out the study is a snapshot in time from 2010 to 2011, so further research will be needed to determine whether e-cigarettes have a positive effect on public health.