The marketing is clear cigarettes are bad, but e cigarettes are good.

In a sleek, rechargeable metal tube, e cigarettes offer a hit of nicotine without the tar, smoke or other harsh chemicals associated with the real thing. There s no federal law regulating where e cigarettes can be smoked, but some places, like New York City, are banning them anywhere smoking is prohibited.

So where can you smoke e cigs? E smokers are now taking refuge in vape bars, where you can walk in, take a seat at the counter and allow a vapologist to guide you through the chalkboard full of hardware and flavors Disposable or rechargeable? Bubble gum or Cinnabon? The options are endless. The Henley Vaporium, a vape bar co owned by Talia Eisenberg and Peter Denholtz in New York City’s Soho neighborhood, is such a place.

“It’s a different experience of bringing people together, and it’s a healthier experience,” says Denholtz, who smoked for 35 years before switching to e cigarettes. “I’m happy to have a better way to put nicotine into my body.”

Denholtz adds he doesn’t encourage non nicotine users or people who have never smoked to start up, but he views e cigarettes as a healthier alternative for those who suffer from nicotine addiction. For the 45 million smokers in the United States, the switch to e cigs could mean vast improvements for their health.

But what about the health of the teens who have never smoked before? Or the health of ex smokers who haven t taken a puff in years? And what s in these e cigs anyway?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, significant questions remain about how to assess the potential toxicity and health effects of the more than 250 electronic cigarette brands.” There are also questions about how e cigarettes should be both advertised and regulated.

Michael Eriksen, founding dean of the School of Public Health at Georgia State University (GSU) and former director of the CDC s Office on Smoking and Health, says no one knows what to expect from the proliferation of e cigarettes.

Under Eriksen s leadership, GSU recently received a $19 million grant from the Food and Drug Administration to study why people choose to try e cigarettes and what using them really means for the body.

“You have a bit of a conundrum. E cigarettes are, almost without exception, safer to use for a smoker than traditional smoking, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe. That’s what the concern is. People will use e cigarettes on an increased basis, leading to more exposure to nicotine among kids and possibly ex smokers,” he says.

Eriksen says while e cigarettes look like medical devices, they’re considered to be tobacco products because they contain nicotine, which is derived from tobacco, even though e cigarettes contain no tobacco. He adds that, while nicotine itself is not benign, it is much better than cigarette smoke, which is the main reason why traditional cigarette smoking can lead to illness and death.

According to Eriksen, the ideal e cigarette user is a current tobacco smoker that is having difficulty quitting on their own. He says e cigarettes can be a tool for tobacco smokers to eventually kick their nicotine addiction.

“We certainly don’t want people who are not using nicotine like teens or non smokers to start to use nicotine,” Eriksen says. “It is a stimulant, and in larger doses, it is toxic. Nicotine is extraordinarily addicting and still of concern.”

He says e cigarettes are creating, once again, an allure and prestige around the act of smoking.

“Not only is it glamorizing, and in some ways sexualizing, e cigarettes, there is a concern that it is going to renormalize smoking,” he says. “A lot of the progress we’ve made around the world is to denormalize smoking, from it becoming a popular and attractive thing to do to, in some ways, a deviant behavior. The way e cigarettes are being marketed, it really may have the effect of making not only e cigarette use, but smoking in general more desirable.”

Eriksen and his team plan to investigate how people make a decision to smoke either traditional or e cigarettes, in addition to the factors that lead people to stop smoking completely.

“The data is showing rapid and incredible market penetration, both among adults and among teenagers,” says Eriksen of e cigs. “The latest data from the CDC has shown that the usage of e cigarettes among high school students has doubled between 2011 and 2012. Now, about 10 percent of high school students report having tried e cigarettes this is at a time when traditional smoking of cigarettes is at the lowest levels in a generation. What we’re seeing among youth is less cigarette smoking and more use of e cigarettes.”

Eriksen estimates that about 8 percent of all US adults have tried e cigarettes, though about a third of smokers have tried them.

“There’s been really remarkable uptake of e cigarettes over the last few years,” he says.

Rise is seen in students who use e-cigarettes –

Cigarette phase-out considered as trial tests if vapour safer

One in 10 high school students said they had tried an e cigarette last year, according to a national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up from one in 20 in 2011. About 3 percent said they had used one in the last 30 days. In total, 1.8 million middle and high school students said they had tried e cigarettes in 2012.

This is really taking off among kids, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the C.D.C.

E cigarettes are battery powered devices that deliver nicotine that is vaporized to form an aerosol mist. Producers promote them as a healthy alternative to smoking, but researchers say their health effects are not yet clear, though most acknowledge that they are less harmful than traditional cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration does not yet regulate them, though analysts expect that the agency will start soon.

Thomas Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, which represents 28,000 stores, said the study raises too many unanswered questions, for the data to be used for policy making. It was unclear, for example, whether students who tried e cigarettes were using them regularly or only once. He pointed out that selling them to minors is now illegal in many states.

One of the biggest concerns among health officials is the potential for e cigarettes to become a path to smoking among young people who otherwise would not have experimented. The survey found that most students who had tried e cigarettes had also smoked traditional cigarettes.

But one in five middle school students who said they had tried e cigarettes reported never having smoked a conventional cigarette, raising fears that e cigarettes, at least for some, could become a gateway. Among high school students, 7 percent who had tried an e cigarette said they had never smoked a traditional cigarette.

Dr. Frieden said that the adolescent brain is more susceptible to nicotine, and that the trend of rising use could hook young people who might then move into more harmful products like conventional cigarettes.

Murray S. Kessler, the chairman, president and chief executive of Lorillard, a North Carolina based tobacco company that owns Blu eCigs, said that the rise in youth usage was unacceptable, and added that the company was looking forward to a regulatory framework that restricts youth access but does not stifle what may be the most significant harm reduction opportunity that has ever been made available to smokers.

The sharp rise among students mirrored that among adult users and researchers said that it appeared to be driven, at least in part, by aggressive national marketing campaigns, some of which feature famous actors. (Producers say the ads are not aimed at adolescents.) E cigarettes also come in flavors, which were banned in traditional cigarettes in 2009 and which health officials say appeal to young people.

Kids love gadgets and the marketing for these things is in your face, said Gary A. Giovino, a professor of health behavior at the University at Buffalo. He added that the rising use of e cigarettes risked reversing societal trends in which smoking had fallen out of fashion.

About 6 percent of all adults not just smokers reported having tried e cigarettes in 2011, according to a C.D.C. survey, about double the number from 2010. Data for adults in 2012 are not yet available, a spokesman said.