New research suggests electronic cigarettes could be doing more harm than good - and one Western Bay medical expert says they do not appear to be safely regulated.
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are devices that deliver nicotine through a vapour and have become popular among some smokers trying to give up.
Researchers from the University of Athens in Greece investigated the short-term effects of using e-cigarettes on smokers and non-smokers and found they caused an immediate increase in airway resistance and harm to lungs.
Professor Christina Gratziou, one of the report's authors and Chair of the European Respiratory Society's Tobacco Control Committee, has been reported as saying they did not yet know whether unapproved e-cigarettes were safer than normal cigarettes.
"We found an immediate rise in airway resistance in our group of participants, which suggests e-cigarettes can cause immediate harm after smoking the device. More research is needed to understand whether this harm also has lasting effects in the long term."
Dr Neil Graham, who specialises in internal medicine at Tauranga Hospital, told the Bay of Plenty Times e-cigarettes were the most effective way of easing smoking addiction but did not appear to be safely regulated.
"The main dangers in cigarettes are the tars. Tars are carcinogenic and cause damage to the lungs.
"These things don't have tars in them. They seem to be a lot safer than tobacco."
However, he said they did not seem to be properly checked.
"These things have found their way in to the world market. These devices and the chemicals in them have not, it seems, been tested to the level of a new drug would have to be."
Bay of Plenty medical officer of health Dr Jim Miller the jury was still out on the risks of e-cigarettes, as there was little research published about the devices but the hand-to-mouth act of smoking was of concern.
"One of the things that we promote is to try to protect children from smoking ... It's less to do with the issue of second-hand smoke than it is to do with children growing up with the idea that smoking is a normal and sensible thing to do," Dr Miller said.
A Ministry of Health spokesman said e-cigarettes containing nicotine were classed as a medicine in New Zealand and had to be approved through clinical trial evidence before they were sold as being a safer alternative to tobacco.
To date, no e-cigarette manufacturers have applied for a trial.
E-cigarettes marketed as a social prop or "gadget" instead of a therapeutic product did not need approval.
Tauranga's Puff 'n Stuff retailer Mike Lawrence said 99 per cent of customers who bought e-cigarettes did so to give up smoking.
Customers told Mr Lawrence they were recommended e-cigarettes from friends who had tried them, who said they felt better because of the devices.
"Their smell and their taste comes back and instead of having to smoke a whole cigarette they have just two, three or four puffs of an e-cigarette and get their fix."
Mr Lawrence said he and his staff had a rule not to recommend e-cigarettes as a way to give up smoking "because that needs to come from doctors".
Only 1 per cent of customers asked about potential health risks associated with e-cigarettes, Mr Lawrence said.