At a recent social event a man seated next to me pulled an e-cig out of his pocket he said, "I hope you don't mind, but this isn't a real cigarette, it's only vapor."
"I guess you don't know what I do for a living?" was my response.
Steve had quit smoking 15 years ago. He had smoked two packs a day and quit cold turkey. Now he was using 8 to 10 cartridges a day in his e-cig.
When I asked why he started using the e-cigarette after having quit smoking so long ago, his answer was-- curiosity. But now Steve is hooked on nicotine again and spending up to $150 a week.
Some people in tobacco control have been endorsing e-cigarettes as "harm reduction" which is when a smoker, who either can't or won't quit smoking, switches to an e-cigarette because it is "less harmful" than smoking regular cigarettes. But for Steve this isn't about reducing his need to smoke but re-starting his addiction to nicotine and someone is making a lot of money off of Steve's addiction.
E-cigarettes are big business, expected to generate $1 to 2 Billion in sales in 2013. The tobacco companies are adding e-cigs to their list of products. But could it be that since over half of all smokers have quit, that a new marketplace is opening up? Former smokers who can be lured back into nicotine addiction with e-cigarettes and teens who would never think of lighting up a cigarette but don't see an e-cigarette as anything but a fad to try.
So while the rate of smoking has been declining over the years and we have made great strides in preventing teens from starting, I think the real hidden danger of e-cigarettes is that we will be seeing a rise in the number of nicotine addicts. Since few double blind studies have been done and currently there are no one regulating the manufacture and marketing of e-cigarettes, is this the next tobacco epidemic or will nicotine be just another "harmless" addiction like caffeine?