E-cigarettes are the perfect sort of modern invention: Not only do they digitize something as analog as smoking, but they do it in a way that supposedly removes the biggest problem with the real thing — the health risks.

Australia, however, isn’t so sure. The country is on the verge of launching its first clinical study into e-cigarettes, a technology that’s either the balm of the gods or the latest tool of the devil, depending on whom you ask.

In the U.S., the percentage of smokers who’ve tried e-cigarettes doubled from 10 percent in 2010 to 21 percent in 2011, according to the Center for Disease Control. Clearly, people are seeing something in the technology — but what?

One factor is health. Many current cigarette smokers laud e-cigarettes’ therapeutic benefits, especially their ability to help them kick their addiction to regular death sticks. (“I don’t smell like an ashtray,” say some.)


Basically, lots of people say that e-cigarettes have changed their lives. And that could be a big problem.

Why? Put yourself in the position of, say the City of New York, which has done more than most cities to de-glorify cigarette smoking by showing in gruesome detail just how effectively it can destroy your body. (New York also just recently banned people from smoking e-cigarettes within 100 feet of schools, showing thats it’s not afraid of bringing a cigarette-level stigma to e-cigs as well.)

For a lot of officials, e-cigarettes are a nightmare because their rise could mean that it’s suddenly cool again to smoke, which means that more people could end up doing it. E-cigarettes can be a gateway drug to the real thing, they say.

The other big contention with e-cigarettes is the that no one fully understands how unhealthy they are yet. In a 2009 study, the USDA found in e-cigarettes the presence of not only human carcinogens, but in one instance, diethylene glycol, a toxic antifreeze ingredient.

Since then, there have been countless more studies done on e-cigarettes, and just as many of them have come out in favor of the technology as have against it. The jury is still very much out.

Which, if you ask me, is a pretty good reason to be more than a bit cautious with e-cigarettes — at least for now.

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