INVESTIGATION: Mayo Clinic Unsure if E-Cigarettes are Safe to Use

Posted at: 08/18/2013 9:48 PM
Updated at: 08/19/2013 7:29 AM

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- Right now in Minnesota its legal to smoke electronic cigarettes in bars and restaurants.

In Mankato, soon you won't be able to. Last week, the Mankato city council approved a ban on them inside public buildings.

We've told you recently more people are trying e-cigarettes to quit smoking. But are they safe to use?

The ads are online, from companies like Blu. Also in magazines, like ESPN the magazine. They tout one of the latest alternatives to smoking, E-cigarettes. The product is catching on, due in part, to the societal pressure to ditch the ashtray.

"My brother-in-law went from three packs a day to no packs in weeks," said Tory Keefe, owner of Vapin Midwest, an e-cigarette store.

Keefe isn't a smoker himself, but has seen many people quit by using e-cigarettes.

The growing interest caused him to open the store in Rochester.

"Everyday someone comes in here and throws away their dirty old cigarettes," said Keefe.

"I find e-cigarettes are helpful in those social situations," said Laura Forsch. She recently quit smoking. She says e-cigarettes didn't help her kick the real thing. But she still uses them to fulfill that physical action of smoking when she's out with friends.

The question we want to know is are e-cigarettes safe to use?

"I don't advise my patients to use them because I don't know if they are safe and effective," says Dr. Taylor Hays, of Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center.

He says these products are not regulated by the FDA so we don't truly know what's inside of the solutions which are heated to create the vapor.

"There are substances in some of these solutions similar to the substances we'd find in burned tobacco but not really to the level so you would assume they're safer, but we don't know that," said Hays.

Many of these products still have nicotine in them. Some don't.

Dr. Hays says there hasn't been a good study done on these products, so more research is needed. He believes Mayo will likely study e-cigarettes in the future.

In the meantime Tory Keefe will probably see his business grow as people look for new ways to get their smoking fix without the tobacco.

"Even for those who haven't quit they're cutting back huge," said Keefe.

Mayo Clinic says it bans e-cigarettes in its buildings. No word if there's a push to do the same in Rochester or Olmsted County.