Clark, 67, has smoked for the past 50 years. He remembered standing behind a barn, smoking with friends in seventh grade.
“I can remember smoking as early as back in the 1950s,” he said. “When I grew up, it wasn't a big deal. If a kid had a quarter, they could probably buy a pack of cigarettes from a cigarette machine somewhere.”
Theodore Wagener isn't of the opinion that e-cigarettes are worse for people than cigarettes.
Wagener, a researcher at the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center, said research has shown that e-cigarettes produce less toxic vapor than cigarettes — between nine and 450 times less toxic — and are more similar to nicotine inhalers, a product used to quit smoking, than to cigarettes.
The main reason for that difference is — the worst part about cigarettes is the burning of tobacco. Nicotine itself is not really that harmful, although it's not harmless, he said.
“If all smokers just completely used the nicotine lozenge or chewed nicotine gum for the rest of their lives, there'd be no grants, nothing to try to curb nicotine gum usage,” he said. “Nobody would care because it's just not that harmful.”
Compared to regular cigarettes, the amount of chemicals found in e-cigarettes that cause cancer — referred to as carcinogens — is “astronomically low,” he said.
Some studies have shown trace amounts of carcinogens in e-cigarette vapor, but those carcinogens are found generally in anything with nicotine, even pharmaceutical products, like the nicotine inhaler.
That's because most nicotine used in patches, gum, lozenges, cigarettes or e-cigarette liquid is derived from tobacco, which causes trace amounts of carcinogens to be in the products.
Wagener and his team are in the midst of studying several aspects of e-cigarettes.
They recently looked at secondhand vapor from e-cigarettes and found “nothing scary.” They focused their research on whether diethylene glycol was found in e-cigarette vapor, a chemical found in antifreeze that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had found in e-cigarette vapor.
They didn't find it or any other surprising chemical. This is not to say e-cigarettes are harmless. Wagener said everyone would be better off not smoking or vaping anything.
But if given the option, e-cigarettes appear to be a cleaner means of delivering nicotine into a person's body.
“Initial reports show it's not completely harmless,” he said. “It's a lie if someone says, ‘Oh, this is just like nicotine and water.' When it's heated and delivered, it changes a little bit and these things aren't incredibly pure. But comparing it to the regular cigarette, way better. Comparing it to the nicotine inhaler, the nicotine inhaler is better.”