PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Go just about anywhere in South Florida and “no smoking” signs pop up everywhere.
Florida banned smoking in most public places back in 2003, 40 years after Gwynne Chesher started lighting up.
"For a long time they were my dearest friend,” she tells the Contact 5 Investigators.
At her worst, Chesher was puffing a pack a day. She's tried everything to quit.
"I tried the gum, it gave me a stomach ache. I tried the patch, it made my heart beat fast and scared me. I tried chiantix and it gave me horrible insomnia, oh... acupuncture and hypnotism, that didn't do a thing!"
So when her son recently suggested electronic cigarettes, Gwynne signed up and started, what's widely known as, vaping.
Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated, have the look and feel of a traditional cigarette but without the smell, the smoke, and the harmful side effects according to its supporters.
Two weeks in and Gwynne was impressed, until her doctor weighed in.
"He was like no way, you can't use those,' ” she said.
Last year the American Lung Association issued a warning about e-cigarettes, advising consumers to stay away.
"We don't know what's in it. People are inhaling some vaporized compound into their lungs without really knowing what's in it," said Dr. Mike Feinstein with the American Lung Association in West Palm Beach.
"There's no information about whether they're safe or not and that's part of the problem," said Dr. Robert Green of the Palm Beach Cancer Institute.
Green says with no real data on e-cigarettes, the three year old tobacco alternative may actually be more harmful that traditional cigarettes.
"The doses of nicotine that you get could, conceivably, be higher than what you would get in a typical cigarette," he said.
“To make that claim is obviously ludicrous,” said Ray Story. Story, an e-cigarette distributor and CEO of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association .
“There is really nothing in an e-cigarette that makes this product a dangerous alternative,” he said.
What's inside e-cigarettes has been a source of debate for just about as long as the product has been on the market. A few years ago, the FDA tested a small sample and found a number of toxic chemicals including one called like diethylene gylcol, the same ingredient used in antifreeze.
After the finding, Ray Story submitted a freedom on information request to obtain the sample, which contained the chemical. However, to date, the FDA has not supplied him with any data.
“I understand they found all kinds of stuff and at one point you could probably find whatever you wanted, but if the other side can't substantiate it, you have to wonder what the motives (are),” he said.
The findings forced the Food and Drug Administration to issue a nationwide health warning. The agency tried to ban the product but failed when Ray Story sued.
"I'm not telling anyone to start smoking or start vaping e-cigarettes. I'm just the one who decided this product should be here as a less harmful alternative and the FDA even says it's 1400 times less harmful."
Gwynne Chesher isn't convinced. So she's washing her hands of anything to do with electronic cigarettes
“I have no problem throwing them in the trash.”
The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association says e-cigarettes contain five ingredients: water, nicotine, glycerine, propylene glycol (often used in soaps and lotions) and flavoring. All of these ingredients have been approved, individually, by the FDA.
The FDA announced it will begin to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product bringing regulation to an otherwise unregulated market.
For more information on electronic cigarettes click www.tveca.com
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