FILE - A sales associate demonstrates the use of a electronic cigarette and the smoke like vapor that comes from it in Aurora, Colo. on Wednesday, March 2, 2011. Children - like adults - are increasingly trying electronic cigarettes, according to the first large national study to gauge use by middle and high school students. About 2 percent of the students said they�d used an e-cigarette in the previous month, according to a survey done in 2012. That was up from 1 percent in 2011. Results were released Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) Electronic cigarettes have boomed across the country. The industry surpassed one billion dollars thanks in part to participation from large tobacco companies. But thanks to a lack of regulations and research, the trends gained as many critics as fans.
Vaping has become a familiar site, but the water vapor smoke plumes that come from e-cigarettes are much different than those from traditional cigarettes.
"I loved to smoke. I loved it. And was at work one day and I had to walk from one side of the office to the other, and I couldn't breathe. I hadn't even turned 50 yet. I thought, I can't... I can't do this," said Glenn Cate.
Cate contributes his success to the familiar hand to mouth habit, providing stress relief without all of the nasty side effects.
"I didn't realize how bad it was until I got my smell and taste back. And then I realized, wow, I have been subjecting people around me to that," said Cate's wife Karen.
Now the duo has been cigarette free four years combined.
They started a Facebook group that now draws more than 200 supporters together for monthly meetings, and they'll open a shop called Vintage Vapors selling e-cigarettes and e-juice later this month.
"Everybody that I know that uses them, there's been some significant... either they have bronchitis and breathing treatments and they no longer have to take them. Asthma patients that no longer have to take their asthma medication," said Cate.
Health experts have some concerns.
"There really just isn't enough research out there and they're not regulated. So to say that they're helpful or harmful one way or the other is hard to say right now," said Metro Drug Coalition representative Heather Sutton.
A lack of FDA regulations and an increase in minors picking up e-cigarettes has caused concern that the devices will lead teens to try tobacco products known to cause cancer and early death.
Cates, who has a teenage daughter, says teens will get their hands on whatever they want. For others, he says they're valuable.
"They say we can't market it as a smoking cessation device because it's not FDA approved. But it's a healthier alternative," said Cate.