Booming E-cigarette industry raises questions on safety, regulation

(CBS News) Late last year -- for the first time in over four decades -- cigarettes made a return to television advertising, when electronic cigarette maker NJOY aired a spot approved by cable networks.

NJOY CEO Craig Weiss told CBS News' Jeff Glor he hopes to distribute e-cigarette ads across prime time programming, as part of his mission to "obsolete cigarettes."

NJOY is the best-selling brand of e-cigarettes or "e-cigs," a battery-powered device that mimics the sensation of smoking a real cigarette by delivering nicotine through a smoke-like vapor. There is no tobacco or combustion, and when exhaled, no odor.

As NJOY's Weiss explained it, e-cigarette makers are aiming for a unique and improved sensation.

"It's not that I want to be as good as a cigarette. I'd like to be better than a cigarette," he said.

E-cigarettes have existed for nearly a decade but the industry has rapidly expanded within the last year. 

In 2011, sales of e-cigs came close to $300 million. In 2012, sales had more than doubled, to $600 million, according to a June, 2013 report from Wells Fargo SecuritiesAnalysts say this year, sales will likely triple to over $1 billion.

300 million in 2011, 600 million in 2012

And while traditional cigarette manufacturers will rake in approximately $80 billion this year, NJOY's Weiss says, he's confident "the good guys," -- in his mind, e-cigarette makers -- will ultimately come out on top.

"We feel it's a bit of a David versus Goliath battle. We're taking on big tobacco," Weiss told Glor. "They're a good public enemy to have."

Still, some in the medical community -- including Dr. Neil Schachter, a leading lung specialist at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital -- remain unconvinced that e-cigarette manufacturers are the so-called good guys.

"Patients have come in and say, 'Gee I've tried this new form of cigarette. Great. I'm smoking this non toxic form of cigarette.' I say to them, 'I don't know. I don't know if this is non toxic,'" Schachter told Glor.

The Food and Drug Administration does not currently regulate e-cigarettes, therefore manufactures are not mandated to disclose the ingredients.

Most major brands boast a similar list of ingredients: Nictone, water, artificial flavoring, glycerol, and propylene glycol, the ingredient that creates the exhaled imitation smoke.

The FDA has consistently promised to propose regulatory guidelines for e-cigarettes and while the organiation declined to speak to CBS News on camera, they issues this statement: "Further research is needed to assess the potential public health benefits and risks of electronic cigarettes and other novel tobacco products."

The research could take years according to Erika Sward, of the American Lung Association

"We are very concerned that there is literally no federal oversight of these products. We do not know what's in them. We do not know how they are being used," Sward explained.

"I would hope that e-cigarettes would ultimately not have the same god awful impact that regular tobacco products have had, but the jury is still out," she added.

For his part, Weiss welcomes FDA regulation, explaining that it would enhance his company's vision of a future where smoking lacks the health consequences it is known for today.

"I've got a three-year-old and a six-year-old. And, I want to grow up in a world where they can ask me one day, 'So, wait a second, dad. I don't understand. You used to little this thing on fire and then you put it in your mouth? I mean, how did that even work?'" Weiss said.

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