MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. - Westchester tobacco smokers are turning to a new-age substitute to ease their cravings with e-cigarettes, a sleek-barrel, non-tobacco electronic gadget that processes nicotine and emits a vapor cloud instead of smoke.
The Center for Disease Control reported earlier this year the number of American adults who use electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigarettes, rose from 10 percent in 2010 to 21 percent in 2011.
"It's less expensive than smoking regular cigarettes and is not as hazardous to your health," Hastings' Jimmy Kotiadis said. "I highly recommend giving it a try if your a smoker trying to kick the habit but can't go cold turkey."
The electronic cigarette was introduced to the U.S. market in 2007 and offers the nicotine-addicted an alternative to smoking tobacco. They look more like pens than cigarettes but offer the same taste and satisfaction to smokers without the odor or second-hand smoke. E-cigarettes contain varying degrees of nicotine, including some with zero nicotine content.
The battery devices often are made to resemble actual tobacco cigarettes. E-cigarettes release water vapor laced with varying degrees of nicotine housed in a cartridge. Users then inhale the vapor as they would the smoke from a combustible cigarette.
E-cigarettes are sold in most stores where tobacco products are sold and retail for around $10. E-smokers say they get the equivalent of two packs (40 cigarettes) in one electronic cigarette, a savings of nearly $10 a day for heavier smokers.
Because they contain no tobacco, e-cigarettes aren't subject to U.S. tobacco laws, which means they can be purchased without proof online. Westchester storekeepers, like Madaba Deli's Firas Marji, say the product is becoming very popular.
"We have the same rules with the e-cigarettes; customers have to be over 18 and have ID," Marji said. "We have a all different brands and they are selling more and more every day. People say they cost less than cigarettes, don't have the smell of smoke and can be used in bars and other places."
Many cities with public smoking bans are adding e-cigarettes to their smoking ban. The Foxborough-Norton-Mansfield area of Massachusetts modified its smoking ban to include e-cigarettes among the items that could not be smoked in schools and restaurants. King County in Washington added e-cigarettes to its smoking ban.
A New York law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2012 made it illegal as of Jan. 1, 2013 to smoke e-cigarettes within 100 feet of "public building entrances or schools." This move applies the same restrictions on smoking to e-cigarettes as apply to traditional cigarettes.
Opponents of e-cigarettes also express concern manufacturers may be targeting teenagers or even children, cultivating a new generation of users because they may be considered less harmful. This raises concerns that e-cigarettes may be particularly appealing to kids and may encourage nicotine addiction among young people.
While manufacturers of the e-cigarette say that it's the cigarette you can "smoke" anywhere, regulatory agencies around the world are taking a close look at them and instituting a range of restrictions on their use.
Proponents of the e-cigarette say they feel better using the device than they did when they were smoking tobacco cigarettes, and that because the e-cigarette is reusable, it saves them money.
Mount Vernon resident Xavier Hernandez, who made the switch from menthols to e-cigarettes earlier this year, said he has been able to cut back on his smoking, although he finds himself doing it more often in public places. He said he made the switch at the behest of his family, who worried about the health effects related to smoking cigarettes.
“It’s been great, I’ve definitely cut back from smoking a pack every two or three days, and the people around me appreciate it,” he said. “I find myself using them more indoors, at movie theaters, but all in all it’s been a great switch.”
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