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April 15th, 2009
Electronic cigarettes a hot trend
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by Bryan Rourke

Providence, RI – The last time Frank Meglio smoked a cigarette he had to plug it in and charge it. Then the 38-year-old Providence man inhaled through the white plastic cigarette-like tube, which activated a little lithium battery inside that produced a flame-like light, a smoke-like vapor and a nicotine hit.

Smoking’s gone high-tech.

Electronic cigarettes, or “e cigs” as they’re often called, have been in existence about a decade. But only recently, as tobacco cigarette prices soar, have they gained popularity, and controversy.

These products are being promoted as offering smokers the nicotine they want without the cancer-causing chemicals they don’t want. Since there’s no odor and no real smoke (just propylene glycol used in theatrical fog) or flame (just a tiny light at the tip for effect), they can be used indoors. They come in different flavors and four levels of nicotine dosages.

“Most people use it as a healthier way to smoke,” said Edwin Schwab, who works on the second floor of Providence Place at the kiosk of Smoking Everywhere, a U.S. distributor of e cigs. “It sounds absurd but it’s really true.”

What may make e cigs more appealing now than before is the recent rise in the price of cigarettes. Last week, Rhode Island raised its excise tax on cigarettes to $3.46 per pack, the highest in the country. And the federal excise tax rose from 39 cents per pack to $1.01. So a typical pack of smokes in the state now costs $8.35.

Compare that with a pack of e cigs: $2. Since they’re not cigarettes, they’re not taxed as cigarettes. They contain the drug nicotine, but aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration — at least not yet.

The FDA reports that it is “looking into this.” And it is getting encouragement to look thoroughly and decisively. Two months ago David Gifford, the state’s health director, wrote the FDA asking it to regulate e cigs because of their nicotine content.

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