Bonnie Martin has been a cigarette addict since the age of 12. A former registered nurse, the 49-year-old Vineland, N.J., woman worked with cancer patients and felt hypocritical when instructing them to quit smoking.
Martin tried every product on the market in her attempts to quit -- patches, gums, acupuncture, hypnosis and prescription medications.
Nothing worked until she tried an electronic cigarette. She says because of her e-cig, she has not had a conventional tobacco cigarette since March.
An e-cig looks like a cigarette. It runs on a lithium battery and holds a cartridge with a flavored liquid -- with or without nicotine. When the user takes a drag on the e-cig, the liquid is heated, a light at the end comes on simulating the appearance of smoldering tobacco, and a vapor is drawn out. The vapor dissipates quickly; a person sitting next to an e-cig smoker would not be able to smell it.
"The e-cig satisfies not only the nicotine craving, but also the hand-to-mouth and the oral fixations, and what smokers call the throat and lung hit. It's the actual feeling of having a fullness of smoke, and an exhalation," Martin said.
Martin had her first heart attack four years ago and subsequently has been unable to work. She also was unable to quit smoking.
"My son begged me, 'If you can't quit for yourself, will you quit for me, please?'" she recalled him asking.
She was smoking about two packs a day when she happened upon e-cigs at a Smoking Everywhere mall kiosk.
"They had a little video claiming you could smoke (e-cigs) anywhere, you would not get the 4,000 chemicals that are in combustible cigarettes, that it was a safer and healthier alternative," Martin said.
She purchased a kit for $150.
Martin, who has a collection of various flavored liquids, said she started out with the amount of nicotine equivalent of two packs a day of cigarettes and gradually decreased to where she's almost "vaping zero."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to conduct extensive safety tests, but preliminary tests on two brands by Cedars Laboratory in St. Louis found variable levels of nicotine in the cartridges.
FDA spokesman Michael Levy said e-cigs also contain potential carcinogens and a toxic chemical, diethylene glycol.
Martin, while realizing the FDA is far from signing off on the e-cigs as smoking cessation devices, said it is frustrating the FDA has not authorized clinical testing. She said she works to educate and help others in using e-cigs as a more-healthful alternative to conventional cigarettes, mostly through her involvement with Right to Vape (righttovape.com). She said she has come across ample anecdotal evidence of e-cig-user success -- and no stories of anyone having suffered ill-effects from "vaping."
Martin said she believes the tests performed by the limited tests ordered by the FDA were in reaction to a lawsuit initiated by e-cig manufacturers Smoking Everywhere and NJOY. She said she would like to see the FDA authorize independent research studies, which she predicted would show e-cigs pose fewer health hazards than cigarettes and would thus encourage the government to institute meaningful quality assurance and oversight regulations.
"The (e-cig liquids) have no ingredients listed on them, no child safety cap, no milligrams clearly stated on the bottle. You're playing Russian Roulette with what you're vaping," Martin said, noting most of the liquids are imported from China.
She said, however, she would continue to buy e-cig materials regardless of whether they are subject to regulation since "they can't be any worse than the 4,000 chemicals found in cigarettes."