MILWAUKEE - The smoking ban in our state is pretty clear--no smoking in public places. However, 'electronic' cigarettes are for the most part unregulated.
Current e-cig sales in the United States are projected at $2 billion. The rapid growth of this industry has shops like the Vapor Lounge in West Allis popping up all over the place. Store manager Teerasak Boonwatana says, "We get a lot of customers that are basically just curious."
E-cigs are battery-powered cartridges filled with nicotine liquid. When heated, they create an inhalable vapor. Advocates say they are less dangerous than tobacco products, and can even help smokers quit.
"Let's say if a customer come in telling me they smoke two packs a day, I would tell them to have a higher level of nicotine and gradually lower it down," Boonwatana explains.
A new bill introduced by Senator Glenn Grothman aims to allow the use of e-cigarettes in places like bars and restaurants--where cigarettes are currently banned.
Ari Domnitz, owner of Karma Bar in Milwaukee, says it's an interesting proposal. "Now it's such a foreign sight and smell and idea that someone could be smoking in a bar."
Domnitz says his staff hasn't had any complaints when people have occasionally smoked their electronic cigarettes inside the restaurant. Bartender Devon Baker prefers them over the real thing. "They do not bother me at all. I would rather deal with that than deal with someone smoking a cigarette."
Doctors are concerned because the effects of e-cig use are highly unknown at this point.
Dr. Bruce Campbell is an Otolaryngologist at Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin. He points out, "We do know there are side stream chemicals. We know there are potential carcinogens in the aerosols, we assume they are going to be safer than a regular cigarette but nobody knows the answer to that."
Dr. Campbell would like to see more studies done before he makes a final decision on how e-cigs should be regulated.
"Part of the problem with this whole effort to make electronic cigarettes able to be used in public is that we just don't know enough about them," he adds.
Another concern: Teenage e-cig use. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report shows that in the U.S. from 2011 to 2012, the percentage of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes more than doubled.
Some big cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago are passing laws restricting the use of e-cigarettes. Currently, the FDA has announced it will regulate smokeless electronic cigarettes as tobacco products, treating them the same as traditional cigarettes.