Consumer Reports: Putting e-cigarettes to the test

CONSUMER REPORTS -- Sales of e-cigarettes have exploded. Purchases tripled between 2012 and 2013.

Now a billion-dollar industry, big tobacco created its own brands of e-cigarettes. Consumer Reports found out whether you can rely on them as a way to quit smoking.

Jenny McCarthy is the celebrity spokesperson for the leading e-cigarette.

"I get to have a Blu without the guilt, because there's only vapor, not tobacco smoke!" she says.

The commercials promote e-cigarettes as a better alternative to smoking. But, what exactly is in them?

"E-cigarettes hold a replaceable cartridge that contains nicotine, solvents and flavorings," said Consumer Reports' Jamie Kopf. "When that's heated up by the battery, it atomizes the solution and creates an inhalable vapor."

A lot of people have turned to e-cigarettes to help kick their smoking habit.

"I liked it right away," said Nina Weinberg-Doran, an e-cigarette user." "It had a flavor. It was a low-nicotine. From the day I started using it, I did not smoke another cigarette. It worked, it took away that oral thing, and there's no smell, there's no matches, there's no smell in your hair, your clothes, your car."

While some e-cigarette users actually do quit smoking cigarettes, the numbers are low. In a study conducted last fall, only about seven percent had stopped after six months. And, are e-cigarettes really safe?

"Like in the early days of tobacco cigarettes, it's just not clear yet what the long-term effects of using these products are going to be," Kopf said.

Another concern: a lot of them come in enticing flavors with names like Peach Schnapps, Cherry Crush and Vivid Vanilla. And, because e-cigarettes contain nicotine, they might lead young people to step up to traditional cigarettes.

"Our advice is don't start with e-cigarettes just for fun," said Kopf. "And, if you're trying to quit smoking, stick with approved and better-studied methods, like nicotine gum, patches and counseling."

The FDA is in the process of trying to regulate e-cigarettes. In the meantime, some states and cities have banned e-cigarettes in public places where tobacco smoking is also prohibited. Yakima is considering a ban.