The truth about e-cigs: How healthy are they?

By Valencia

LADSON, S.C. (WCIV) - Ron Sena smoked a pack-a-day for 40 years. His addiction to nicotine followed him everywhere he went - even in the Intensive Care Unit. But it wasn't until he was introduced to electronic cigarettes that he was able to get rid of his tobacco habit.

"September 23rd, 2010 was basically the day I switched over," he said.

After the patch failed, Ron decided to try "vaping". In no time, Ron became a believer and started his own company called Carolina Vapor.

"I've got a waffle flavor, dewberry, cotton candy, root beer, cinnamon red hot, Carolina waffle, American cherry."

As Ron began to feel better, he recruited other smokers to try the alternative.

"For the most part, a lot of these guys will call me back a week later, 'it's great', 'I love this thing', 'I haven't had a cigarette since last week' or 'I'm down to maybe two cigarettes a day versus two or three packs a day," said Ron.

Electronic cigarettes release water vapor and produce no second hand smoke. However, they are not FDA approved and there is very little research to show how healthy they are.

"The base is propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin. Those are the two main liquids," Ron said.

Dr. Michael Spandorfer{}is a pulmonary physician with Roper St. Francis Medical Systems.

"Those chemicals are relatively inert. They are a slightly fatty type of material which once inhaled can induce some lung disease," said Dr. Spandorfer.

Still, Dr.{}Spandorfer says there are far less chemicals in e-cigs than there are in tobacco cigarettes.

"There are more than a thousand other chemicals in a tobacco cigarette than one would find in an electronic cigarette."

While there are fewer unknown chemicals, electronic cigarettes still contain nicotine.

"It is a drug and they do have side effects," said Dr. Spandorfer.

Nonetheless, smokers who have switched to vapor cigs say they feel healthier.

"You wake up in the morning and you can breathe. Sinus trouble is a whole lot less. The cigarette cough goes away," said Chris Bellew, a pack and a half-a-day smoker for 41 years.

"Food tastes better. I can keep up with my four grandkids that are down here," said Louis Bucci, a 40-year smoker.

"I can breathe better when I'm walking down the steps. It's just all around a good thing," said Samantha Barfield, a young mother of one.

While there is no sure evidence, the folks who use vapor cigs believe they are a healthier option.

"I've gone to multiple websites and every single one of them will sit there and say, 'we can not say that this is a healthier alternative for you.' But, my own personal experience is, yes, it is a healthier alternative," said Michelle Ponoski, a 32-year smoker.

Dr. Spandorfer says e-cigs should only be used as a way to help a person quit smoking. He says they should not be a permanent lifestyle.

"If they've made the change from active tobacco smoking, now to these electronic cigarettes, then they probably are ready whether they believe it or not," Dr. Spandorfer said.