MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- E-cigarettes, the smokeless electronic cigarettes may be cutting edge and cost-effective, but is it costing you your body? For more than a decade users have been inhaling substances that are not regulated, but all of that is about to change.
Susanna Ryan and her sister started Brew City Vape a year and a half ago and their e-cigarette business has skyrocketed. The shop offers different levels of nicotine and endless flavor options.
E-cigarettes have a cartridge filled with nicotine and other substances. When it’s heated, through an electric charger, the user inhales the liquid and exhales the vapor. It mimics the smoking sensation without the tar and 4,000 other chemicals in cigarettes.
“It was organically developed by a pharmacist in China because he saw his father die of lung cancer and he was hoping to make a product that would help smokers be safer,” said Dr. Ileen Gilbert, a pulmonologist at Froedtert and The Medical College of Wisconsin.
E-cigarettes are smokeless, but not necessarily harmless.
Initially, the majority of the liquid used was sent from China.
Dr. Ileen Gilbert says the government got concerned after analyzing a batch.
“The Food and Drug Administration actually analyzed it the concentration and the content was not what was in the package," Dr. Gilbert said.
40 attorneys general urged the FDA to enforce some controls. Recently the FDA announced it will regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product.
“That’s the act that has prevented the selling of cigarettes to minors that has taken out the flavoring that appeal to children,” Dr. Gilbert added.
But for many, the flavor is part of the draw.
“I love the fact you can try other flavors, and the minute I took a hit of it I was like 'this is it. This is going to work.' It’s been almost two months now, I don`t want a cigarette,” said Gloria Mendoza.
Although not marketed as a smoking cessation device, users like Mendoza say since the swap she’s stopped smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.
“I do want to work on leveling down the nicotine -- so that’s what’s nice. I can work on that, where as a cigarette you can’t do that," Mendoza said.
As regulation looms, it's stirring up awareness and prompting studies.
“This could be a very important to employ in a full service program for smoking cessation," Dr. Gilbert said.
While there could be some benefits, Dr. Gilbert says negatives are still unknown.
"The nicotine itself, even if there were no additional chemicals, is one of the most highly addictive substances," Dr. Gilbert said.
Countless people are inhaling the nicotine and other substances in e-cigarettes without knowing the possible health impact.
“When the FDA did seize batches of the e-cigarette, there were nitrosamines which is a known carcinogen. There is propylene glycol which is something very close to antifreeze,” Dr. Gilbert said.
Creating an improved e-liquid was the goal of Christian Berkey -- founder and CEO of Johnson Creek Enterprises now located in Hartland.
“I was trying to find a way to create smoke juice that tasted great, that didn’t have all the chemicals," Berkey said.
Johnson Creek makes smoke juice from scratch. Berkey says the business has grown exponentially.
“Now Johnson Creek is the second largest maker of smoke juice in the world," Berkey said.
Berkey said he's ready for the FDA to mandate a host of protocols.
"There’s a whole set of standards, be it advertising and marketing standards, analysis standards, GNPS purity standards that regulation is going to require of everyone in our industry and a vast majority of these things Johnson Creek already does. In fact, many of them we pioneered," Berkey said.
While the government shutdown did delay the regulations, they could come as early as this year.
“Ultimately it brings the quality to the top and it gives smokers again a really viable choice for the first time ever,” Berkey said.
Dr. Gilbert believes the government regulations may also include some sort of quality and safety control. There have been a few case studies done, one in which the battery operated device blew up, injuring the user.