The jury is still out on the health effects of vaporizers and electronic cigarettes — but the demand for the unregulated devices is growing in Sudbury.

Alex Mackenzie says he switched over to vaping this year as a way to quit smoking regular cigarettes.

"It feels much better. Your lungs don't feel heavy all the time. You're not coughing up all sorts of gross stuff."

Mackenzie said he spends about $30 each month on vaping supplies, and says it's cheaper than smoking cigarettes.

His purchases are part of the reason why downtown cigarette store consultant Matt Boucher says sales are up.

"You blow these big beautiful awesome clouds and it's very, very satisfying compared to what you'd exhale from a cigarette," Boucher said.

Alex Mackenzie

Alex Mackenzie was a smoker for five years before he started vaping in January 2015. He says it's cheaper than buying regular cigarettes, and doesn't bother his asthma. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

And, according to Mackenzie, as he exhales a huge cloud of vapour that smells like raspberries:

"If you can imagine it, it exists. Flavourwise, there's even weird gross stuff like ham."

When it comes to the side effects of vaping, imagination also comes into play.

A nurse at the Sudbury and District Health Unit told CBC News companies can add anything into electronic cigarettes and vaping liquids because the practice is unregulated.

"It doesn't matter what it says on the label. It doesn't have to be correct," Cheryl Harvey said.

"We don't know what's in them. We don't know even the materials that were used to make them."

Harvey said more research-based evidence is needed before vaping should be seen as a healthy alternative to smoking. In the meantime, nicotine replacement therapies, counselling and medications can help people quit, she added.

'Happier' smokers?

Even with those alternatives, MacKenzie still shelled out $100 to get a vaping kit, and spends about $30 a month to buy a 30 ml bottle for vaping. He says it's cheaper than buying regular cigarettes.

"I even have asthma and it doesn't bother my lungs at all."

He said "It feels nicer [than cigarettes]" and "doesn't stink."

And there is another bonus.

"Everybody seems happier ... than most smokers I know. They're all … miserable and angry about their habits, whereas in the vaping community everybody's got something cool they want to talk about and you want to show each other the different things you do with it and different builds and stuff," MacKenzie continued.

"So it's pretty neat. It's like a community where everyone is trying to work towards a common goal."

Harvey said she's noticed a lot of people end up using both electronic cigarettes and cigarettes, so they don't quit smoking — which is why she recommends smokers use methods based on sound evidence to quit smoking, such as nicotine replacement therapy, counselling and medications approved for use.

"It is a great concern when people use a product that is unregulated … Quitting tobacco use is the most important thing you can do for your health and using evidence-based methods is the best way to go about it."

Correction


Previous versions of this story referred to a study on e-cigarettes by Public Health England as well as articles critical of that study published in the British Medical Journal and The Lancet. CBC News reported a claim that the the Public Health England study was funded by the tobacco industry. In actual fact, PHE commissioned and paid for the study, and none of its authors received funding from the tobacco industry. CBC News regrets the error.