The electronic cigarette was invented in the 1960s, but it didn&#39 t really take off until a decade ago. Currently, there are more than 250 brands of “e cigarettes” available in such flavors as watermelon, pink bubble gum and Java, and in more colors than the iPhone 5C.

The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association estimates about 4 million Americans now use battery powered cigarettes. They project sales of the devices to cross the 1 billion mark by the end of this year. Here, a look at the e smoke trend, the good, the bad and the unknown.

What are e cigarettes?

E cigarettes are battery operated nicotine inhalers that consist of a rechargeable lithium battery, a cartridge called a cartomizer and an LED that lights up at the end when you puff on the e cigarette to simulate the burn of a tobacco cigarette. The cartomizer is filled with an e liquid that typically contains the chemical propylene glycol along with nicotine, flavoring and other additives.

The device works much like a miniature version of the smoke machines that operate behind rock bands. When you “vape” that&#39 s the term for puffing on an e cig a heating element boils the e liquid until it produces a vapor. A device creates the same amount of vapor no matter how hard you puff until the battery or e liquid runs down.

How much do they cost?

Starter kits usually run between $30 and $100. The estimated cost of replacement cartridges is about $600, compared with the more than $1,000 a year it costs to feed a pack a day tobacco cigarette habit, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association. Discount coupons and promotional codes are available online.

Read more E Cigarette Sales to Hit $1 Billion

Are e cigarettes regulated?

The decision in a 2011 federal court case gives the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate e smokes under existing tobacco laws rather than as a medication or medical device, presumably because they deliver nicotine, which is derived from tobacco. The agency has hinted it will begin to regulate e smokes as soon as this year but so far, the only action the agency has taken is issuing a letter in 2010 to electronic cigarette distributors warning them to cease making various unsubstantiated marketing claims.

For now, the devices remain uncontrolled by any governmental agency, a fact that worries experts like Erika Seward, the assistant vice president of national advocacy for the American Lung Association.

“With e cigarettes, we see a new product within the same industry tobacco using the same old tactics to glamorize their products,” she said. “They use candy and fruit flavors to hook kids, they make implied health claims to encourage smokers to switch to their product instead of quitting all together, and they sponsor research to use that as a front for their claims.”

Read More E Cigarette Explodes In Man&#39 s Mouth

Thomas Kiklas, co owner of e cigarette maker inLife and co founder of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, countered that the device performs the same essential function as a tobacco cigarette but with far fewer toxins. He said he would welcome any independent study of the products to prove how safe they are compared to traditional smokes.

The number of e smokers is expected to quadruple in the next few years as smokers move away from the centuries old tobacco cigarette so there is certainly no lack of subjects,” he said.

What are the health risks of vaping?

The jury is out. The phenomenon of vaping is so new that science has barely had a chance to catch up on questions of safety, but some initial small studies have begun to highlight the pros and cons.

The most widely publicized study into the safety of e cigarettes was done when researchers analyzed two leading brands and concluded the devices did contain trace elements of hazardous compounds, including a chemical which is the main ingredient found in antifreeze. But Kiklas, whose brand of e cigarettes were not included in the study, pointed out that the FDA report found nine contaminates versus the 11,000 contained in a tobacco cigarette and noted that the level of toxicity was shown to be far lower than those of tobacco cigarettes.

However, Seward said because e cigarettes remain unregulated, it&#39 s impossible to draw conclusions about all the brands based on an analysis of two.

“To say they are all safe because a few have been shown to contain fewer toxins is troubling,” she said. “We also don&#39 t know how harmful trace levels can be.”

Thomas Glynn, the director of science and trends at the American Cancer Society, said there were always risks when one inhaled anything other than fresh, clean air, but he said there was a great likelihood that e cigarettes would prove considerably less harmful than traditional smokes, at least in the short term.

“As for long term effects, we don&#39 t know what happens when you breathe the vapor into the lungs regularly,” Glynn said. “No one knows the answer to that.”

Do e cigarettes help tobacco smokers quit? Also Read

Evolution of brand marketing – camel cigarettes

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The next brand we look at in the series of Brand Evolution is that of Camel cigarettes.. a favourite of many lung cancer patients around the globe for a century..

Started by the RJR Tobacco company in 1913, Camel commissioned the then big dog of graphic art design, Fritz Kleesattel, to design the packaging and by extension, the Camel (which is said to have subliminal images hidden within it Spooky).

Back when rolling your own cigarette was the norm and NOBODY had heard of pre packaged cigarettes, RJR decided to try something new, even though studies showed that there was apparently no market for this ‘innovation’. Coupled with a unique ‘foreign flavour’, their risk paid off and Camel pre packaged cigarettes set the benchmark for the tobacco industry. They went on to become a firm favourite with their quirky commercials and related taglines.

The first of their ‘quirky’ marketing ads used doctors to help sell the brand with the line ‘More doctors smoke Camel than any other cigarette‘. I’m almost certain the surveys they refer to in this ad was manipulated somehow, but back then, who cared to challenge them?

Pushing the bill even further to help fend off competition from Madmen’s Lucky Strike, Winston and other competitors, they enlisted the services of Jolly old Saint Nick (probably paying the red suited sellout a fortune in royalties and other appearance related commissions)..

Their signature marketing campaign was the launch of the tag line ‘I’d walk a mile for a Camel‘ which featured ads of people.. well.. walking a mile to find a Camel. It wasn’t the most mind blowing idea but it’s message was subtle and well conveyed That this is a brand of cigarette that is so well loved by smokers, they wouldn’t settle for anything less. Quite clever if you ask me..

Hey kids Smoking is fun!

In the late 80&#8242 s, they shifted their brand image with the launch of a mascot, Joe Camel, which went on to become synonomous with the brand and appeared on hundred of different merchandising items.

The American Medical Association later conducted a study and found that children recognized Joe Camel more than Mickey Mouse. They subsequently had to cancel the campaign in 1997 after allegations they apparently targeted kids.. Shock Horror! You’d think they would have saw the signs after the Santa Claus TV ads hey?

Now I have nothing against the air polluting & inconsiderate smokers.. In fact I encourage smoking. We have a huge overpopulation crisis and smoking goes a long way to alleviate the strain on our resources (sick sarcasm intended). If cigarette marketing wasn’t entirely outlawed globally, they might do well to capitalise on this unique marketing idea by a small time pizza joint

These are for our tobacco clients ofcourse! What else could they be for?

They branded ‘cigarette rolling paper’ with their company details so that after smoking a rolled out.. um.. let’s call them joints for the sake of transparency, stoners would be drawn to contacting them once they got munchies. Absolutely brilliant marketing and target market analysis! Thanks for the heads up on this stoner marketing to world famous performer, Ricky Bobby.