Moffitt Cancer Center gets $3.6-million grant to study e-cigarettes

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More and more smokers hoping to kick the habit appear to be picking up another.

As the popularity of electronic cigarettes continues to surge, so do anecdotal stories of smokers using them to quit. But medical experts aren't convinced, and now Tampa researchers will study whether there's truth to the claim that 'e-cigs' can help with smoking cessation.

"Millions of people are using them right now, sales have surpassed $6 billion, and yet we know so little about them," observed Thomas Brandon, Ph.D., director of the Tobacco Research & Intervention Program at Moffitt Cancer Center.

The National Institutes of Health is awarding researchers at Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center a $3.6-million grant. They will coordinate a five-year study, looking for answers into the electronic cigarette debate.

The NIH says electronic cigarettes contain Nicotine, aren't regulated, and haven't been proven as an effective way to quit a tobacco habit. The hope is this new study will clarify that.

"They may be very successful; we just don't know that yet," continued Brandon. "The idea of the new grant is to try to understand what happens when cigarette smokers start using e-cigarettes. Most of them say they start quit smoking or cut down on their smoking, but there's little data out there about how successful they are at that."

The study will be broken down into two parts. During the first year, doctors will interview current and former smokers who also use electronic cigarettes. They hope to learn why they turned to the e-cigs, and how they perceive the option.

The second phase will span over four additional years. The plan is to recruit 2,500 electronic cigarette users throughout the country, and monitor their habits for two years. Every three months, participants will complete a survey, which could help determine how effective the electronic cigarettes are for quitting smoking.

"There's very little consensus about anything related to e-cigarettes right now, but most scientists believe they must be far less dangerous than smoking. The thing is, we just don't know where they fall. It may be -- I sincerely hope -- they will be completely safe. But we might not know for years," Brandon added.

FOX 13 checked with the e-cig industry group, called the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association. A spokesperson says manufacturers it represents do not make smoking cessation claims, and don't plan to do so in the future.

If you are interested in participating in interviews, you should call Moffitt's Tobacco Research & Intervention Program at 1-877-954-2548