WENTZVILLE, Mo. (KSDK) -- At Old Town Kettles and Cups in Wentzville, the electronic cigarette business is smoking. Minutes before closing time, several customers are purchasing battery-powered e-cigarettes and choosing from 80 flavors of e-liquid, sometimes referred to as 'juice', with different doses of nicotine. The e-cigarette converts the liquid to vaporized nicotine that's inhaled.
"All you do is add your juice," said store owner Denise Menckowski, while demonstrating how the e-cigarette works. "This juice in particular is made of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine, and some food flavoring. The mixers that we have mix our juice, actually we don't do it in house. We want it to be in a clean environment, above restaurant quality, and they're also guys who talk to the FDA, so that's pretty cool, so they're putting standards in place to make sure this nicotine is correct."
Greg Hohimer smoked cigarettes for 45 years. "I had asthma, bronchitis, emphysema. I was on four medications."
Hohimer says after trying unsuccessfully to kick the tobacco habit at least 30 times, he started vaping e-cigarettes. "A year after quitting smoking and starting vaping, I'm off all my lung medications."
Fans of e-cigarettes, also known as vapers, say they're less harmful than real cigarettes and are effective helping smokers quit tobacco. Critics say too little is known about the safety of electronic cigarettes because they're not regulated. Michelle Bernth handles communications for the American Lung Association St. Louis, which opposes e-cigarettes.
"Right now there's a lot of misinformation about electronic cigarettes," said Bernth. "The first is that they're not harmful to your health which is not true because nicotine which we know is harmful to your health. They also contain chemicals we don't fully understand. Right now they're not being regulated by the FDA. And so we want to learn more about what goes on with them before we can understand how harmful or not harmful they are to people."
Hohimer says he enjoys e-cigarettes and has no plans to stop smoking, even though there's little information about long-term use. "What I got away from was very harmful," said Hohimer. "If there are some long-term problems, there's no way it's going to be nearly as much as when I was smoking."
The American Cancer Society, like the American Lung Association, opposes e-cigarettes. "As long as you're inhaling nicotine and other toxic chemicals into your lungs, you're still smoking," said Michelle Bernth.
Concern about the safety of e-cigarettes is not hurting sales, which could reach $1 billion this year, according to UBS, a global financial services firm.