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New Research Raising Questions About E-Cigarettes

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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - At its worst, Burke Grilliette had a two and a half pack a day cigarette habit.

"Had trouble getting up stairs, had trouble doing anything…really." Like many smokers, quitting proved elusive.

"I'd tried the patch, the gum…everything like that, anything I could really. Finally picked up an e-cig, tried that out for a little while and once I stepped up to something that I could kind of adjust a little bit more, I cut it out within a couple of weeks."

So Grilliette is an unabashed fan of the electronic cigarettes that burn synthetic nicotine that's delivered through a heated cartridge. Vapor is released that looks like smoke, but it's actually water. The user is still exposed to nicotine, but they're not exposed to many of the cancer causing chemicals associated with burning tobacco.

Now, according to a recent letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers have detected high levels of formaldehyde—a known carcinogen—when the product is used at extremely high temperatures. Except that users are quick to point out that there's a difference between what happens in a lab and what happens in real life… and that the conditions that produced the problems just wouldn't exist under normal use.

"No vapes will actually reach that temperature," insists Grilliette.

So, are the e-cigs safe? Or just safer?

"There's a lot of controversy about e-cigarettes," says Baylor pulmonologist Mark Millard, M.D., "there's no controversy about tobacco."

Dr. Millard stresses that the safest cigarette is no cigarette—but, of the two, tobacco is the one to avoid.

"At least you eliminate the effects of tobacco which when burned causes cancer, causes emphysema, causes bronchitis, causes birth defects, causes all sorts of stuff."

Grilliette argues that anything can be toxic if used the wrong way—and he just knows how he now feels after shedding the two-and-a-half-pack a day habit: "Awesome. I don't get winded hardly at all, I feel absolutely incredible."

Still, doctors caution that nicotine—however it is ingested—is still an addictive drug, and is best avoided. "If you don't vape, don't start," says Dr. Millard.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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