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“Does this suggest that switching over to nicotine is the safe thing to do? No.” Mr. Leischow said. “I can speak for myself and my colleagues when I say [that] I don’t think any of us think that nicotine is a safe product, but when we’re looking at [e-cigarettes] relative to tobacco, there’s absolutely no question of the risks there.”

The FDA, which is expected to issue its first draft regulations on e-cigarette use in the coming days, has warned against e-cigarette companies that claim in their advertising that their products can help smokers kick the habit.

The FDA’s e-cigarette regulations could include the manners and locations in which e-cigarettes can be sold and whether e-cigarettes can be sold to minors. Sale to minors already has been banned in 23 states.

The taxation of e-cigarettes has not been determined.

“If e-cigarettes are not taxed and cigarettes are taxed, it’s a way of getting people to convert from cigarettes to [e-cigarettes],” Mr. Leischow said.

But, he warned, “discouraging the use of a product that you don’t know yet should be discouraged is where it gets tricky.”

Though some e-cigarette enthusiasts say vaping sales could eclipse tobacco cigarettes in the next decade, some researchers are uncertain whether e-cigarettes will create a “cool factor” for smoking in general and instead serve as a gateway to the traditional tobacco products.

Peter Shields, deputy director at Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, says e-cigarettes have both harmful and beneficial effect and thus are hard to evaluate given the present base of knowledge.

“You can imagine that maybe the [people] that really try to emulate cigarettes are going to be the ones that really could be more problematic for coolness and initiation, but they may be the ones best for cessation because that replaces a cigarette,” he said.