A man puffs on an electronic cigarette. (credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

A man puffs on an electronic cigarette. (credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A lot of people are asking if those trendy new e-cigarettes are safe? It’s one of the things researchers at the University of Texas San Antonio are trying to find out.

E-cigarettes are the battery-powered devices being smokers who are trying to kick the habit. The electric “cigarettes” look similar to the real thing, generally having a light on the tip that glows, but actually heat a liquid nicotine solution and create a vapor that users inhale.

Professor William Cooke said despite their being no threat of secondhand smoke, a lot of universities ban e-cigarettes.

“A lot of us go to Starbucks everyday for our caffeine fix right? We’re addicted to caffeine,” he analogized. “So, if nicotine is addictive, which it certainly is, maybe the question is how bad is being addicted to nicotine? And should we give smokers a little bit of a break when they’re trying to quit?”

There have been arguments from health experts who say the level of toxic material in e-cigs is comparable to that of other nicotine replacement therapy products.

The research will look at the effects of directly inhaling vaporized nicotine. And what about the traditional health problems — like cancer, heart disease, lung issues — that are associated with smokers? “If you have this preexisting condition should you use these e-cigarettes?” Cooke asked. “That’s kind of one of the direct questions we’re asking.”

While users may not consider electric cigarettes a traditional tobacco product, others do. “If you’re an ex-smoker who smokes these e-cigarettes you’re still considered a tobacco user by the insurance companies, so you’re premiums are higher,” Cooke explained.

Considering that some 45 million Americans smoke cigarettes, and each year about half of them try to kick the habit, e-cigarettes have become big business. But even the Food and Drug Administration admits e-cigarettes have not been fully studied.

Cooke said the UT research is the ‘first step’ to understanding the physiological complications and public health concerns surrounding the use of e-cigs.

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