Vaping: A growing trend around the country

(WCPO) - Cotton Candy, Apple Breeze and Bahama Blizzard aren't the newest ice cream flavors. They're electronic cigarette options.

Some say "e-cigs" are a tool to help smokers drop the habit, while others say they're a gateway for teens to start a lifelong addiction.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered and deliver nicotine without combusting tobacco. They produce a vapor, not smoke.

For that reason this new "habit" is called vaping. And if you've seen the advertisement by the company Blu featuring actress Jenny McCarthy, you'd think "everybody's doing it."

One of those people is Kaitlin Pangallo, who says she has been smoking electronic cigarettes for a few years.

"It was a another way to smoke cigarettes, I wanted more flavor. I was kind of tired of the same thing every day and I also wanted to quit," explained Kaitlin.

That was the sentiment of several of the people 9 On Your Side spoke with. They said they're using e-cigs to help them quit smoking cigarettes. They said they believe it is a good way to help them reduce their nicotine intake because it allows them to control how much they use.

Over time, they believe the can wean themselves off nicotine entirely using e-cigarettes.

That belief is part of the reason the electronic cigarette industry has boomed in recent months. It's a 1.7 billion dollar business that's led to the creation niche industry stores like Altsmoke.

Altsmoke calls itself an "electronic cigarette lounge."

9 On Your Side, our sister station in Cincinnati, talked to Altsmoke's owner, Frank Cahill, about the growing trend in Cincinnati and across the country. He says e-cigs give the people who use them the feeling of a traditional cigarette but with a few added bonuses.

There are no age restrictions in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana when it comes to the sale of e-cigarettes, Cahill said. In fact, electronic cigarettes are so new they're not regulated by most states or the FDA. There are no marketing restrictions either.

Cahill explained it is up to the business owner to decide if they are going to sell to minors. Altsmoke's policy is to only allow customers that are over 18 to "vape" in their stores.

"Tobacco is not legal to minors and this shouldn't be either," said Cahill.

While Hollywood "A"-listers like Kathyrn Heigl and Katy Perry are glamorizing the trend, health experts are not.

"There are about 4,000 chemicals in typical cigarettes, 55 of which have been shown to be carcinogenic. Which of those are still in e-cigarettes -- and there are different versions of e-cigarettes -- is really not clear," Dr. Barrett said.

E-cigarettes don't burn tobacco, like cigarettes. Although some are sold without nicotine, most heat nicotine in order to produce a vapor that the "smoker" inhales.

According the American Heart Association , nicotine addiction is one of the hardest to break.

"Highly addictive, and possibly as addictive as heroin," Dr. Barrett said.

That's part of the reason why the number of students in grades six to 12 using e-cigarettes has doubled, according to the  CDC's latest data .

Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine and 39 other attorney generals wrote a  letter asking the FDA  to take action to regulate e-cigarettes as "tobacco products."

9 On Your Side reached out to the FDA to get their current position on electronic cigarettes. Below is the statement they provided:

Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated products that turn nicotine, which is highly addictive, and/or other chemicals into a vapor that is inhaled by the user. The FDA regulates electronic cigarettes that are marketed for therapeutic purposes as drugs or devices. The FDA intends to propose a regulation that would extend the agency's "tobacco product" authorities -- which currently only apply to cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco, and smokeless tobacco -- to other categories of tobacco products that meet the statutory definition of "tobacco product." Further research is needed to assess the potential public health benefits and risks of electronic cigarettes and other novel tobacco products.

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Web editor Casey Weldon (walter.weldoniii@wcpo.com) contributed to this report.

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