A Northland retailer selling e-cigarettes is "astounded" by the growth in sales since tobacco prices increased 10 per cent on January 1.

People puffing on the electronic devices, or "vaping" as the practice was known, were becoming a common sight around Northland with the retailer - who spoke anonymously - describing the cigarette substitutes as "the best thing I've ever sold".

E-cigarettes - or electronic cigarettes - are devices that allow users to mimic the ritual of smoking a cigarette. Many glow at the end when activated, as real cigarettes do. Instead of inhaling smoke from burning tobacco, users inhale vapour containing nicotine.

"I'm astounded at how many people are buying them, and at how many people are giving up smoking using them. It's a quiet little revolution," said the retailer, who lost both his parents to smoking-related illnesses.

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"I gave up cold turkey 10 years ago and it was hell - for about a year. The hardest thing to give up about smoking is the puff and the kick. These [customers] say it's easy, and they've been trying for years and years."

Holly Bognar said she had smoked for most of her life from about age 13 - apart from when she was pregnant.

"I'd always gone back to it," the 38-year-old said.

"I was heavily smoking until four months ago and now I don't at all, not even when I drink alcohol, I've transitioned to e-cigarettes."

Ms Bognar said, when she first switched to her e-cigarette, she puffed on it a lot, a pattern the retailer said a lot of his customers reported.

"Now I've sort of weaned myself down, which just gradually happened," she said.

"It's also the amount you can save. It was about $65 initially, and a thing of oil (for the e-ciggie) is about $10, which lasts a couple of weeks. That's compared to probably a 30g in five days, which is $55 and heaps to take out of your benefit."

The use of e-cigarettes was not governed by the Smokefree Act, meaning that, legally, users could vape where they liked.

"I'm studying at the moment, and, out of reflex, I put it to my mouth in class and my tutor wasn't too impressed," Ms Bognar said.

I'm astounded at how many people are buying them, and at how many people are giving up smoking using them. It's a quiet little revolution.

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"But apparently it's OK in the pubs. I've had a few puffs in the shops, but more just to see if I got a reaction."

From a health professional's perspective, the jury was still out. Northland DHB general manager child, youth, maternal, public and oral health services Jeanette Wedding said research suggested e-cigarettes were about 90 per cent safer than smoking tobacco.

However, they had not been clinically trialled as a quitting method. She agreed, anecdotally, there was a rise in people using the devices to stop smoking.

"We've heard mixed results when discussing stopping smoking with patients. Some have successfully stopped smoking using e-cigarettes, while others had tried them with no success."

She said while the most important thing was for tobacco smokers to quit, e-cigarettes could present new problems.

These could include "re-normalising" smoking which looked similar to the act of vaping, a lack of regulation of what went into the liquid vapour, and liquids coming in flavours that appeal to the young, like chocolate and strawberry.