Electronic or e-cigarettes are becoming a popular but controversial, and some would say unproven option for people looking to quit smoking.

The battery-powered devices emit a flavoured vapour that allows people to mimic the motions of smoking.

Brendan Bradshaw used to smoke a pack a day. Two years ago, he started using a e-cigarette with nicotine.

"Within a couple of weeks, noticed less shortness of breath, the coughing was not as painful," he said. "I didn't have the kind of cough headache that you get as a heavy smoker."

Health Canada has advised people not to use electronic cigarettes because they haven’t yet been fully evaluated "for safety, quality and efficacy" and the Canadian Lung Association warns that they "could be potentially harmful to lung health."

Canadian retailers are not allowed to sell e-cigarettes if they contain nicotine.

"We’ve had people ask us for ones with nicotine and we just say, ‘I’m sorry, we’re not allowed,’" said Janet Delorey from River City Cigar Co. in north Edmonton.

Bradshaw is able to buy his e-cigarettes online.

"You just do a little bit of research on the internet and you can find places to purchase," he said.

The Canadian Lung Association worries that some of the flavours in e-cigarettes could appeal to teens and encourage them to eventually switch to tobacco.

Unlike cigarettes, there are no age restrictions on the sale of electronic versions but some retailers have taken action on their own.

Delorey’s store won’t sell the products to anyone under 18.

A report that aired this week on CBC Radio’s The Current led London Drugs to change its policy and require cashiers to check the IDs of customers purchasing e-cigarettes

With files from the CBC's Gillian Rutherford