RICHMOND, Va. — It's difficult to say yet if electronic cigarettes are less harmful than regular fire-and-tobacco smokes, but they can save smokers hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year.
Some in the growing industry are touting the battery-powered nicotine sticks as a way for smokers to save money in the face of rising taxes and prices for tobacco cigarettes. But it may not stay that way for long as states are increasingly looking to tax e-cigarettes as they tax other tobacco products.
A look at the costs of smokes and e-cigarettes shows the savings can vary a lot, depending on state cigarette taxes, and the brand and style of e-cigarette used. But the bottom line is that e-cigarettes can generally make an expensive addiction cheaper.
The basics: The devices heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapor that users inhale. Smokers like them because the vapor looks like smoke, but doesn't contain the thousands of chemicals, tar or odor of regular cigarettes. Scientists haven't finished much research on e-cigarettes, and the studies that have been done on their safety or ability to help smokers quit have been inconclusive.
Some e-cigarette users, known as vapers, use e-cigarettes as a way to quit tobacco, or to cut down. Others want to be able to get their nicotine fix in places where regular cigarettes aren't allowed.
But cost is increasingly becoming part of the equation as the average pack of cigarettes around the country tops $6.15, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators.
Comparing costs: Smoking is expensive. A pack-a-day smoker can spend anywhere from $1,500 a year in a low-tax state all the way to about $5,000 in New York City, where a pack can run $13. On average across the country, the tab comes to about $2,250 a year.
Most disposable e-cigarettes say they're equivalent to about two packs of cigarettes and cost $6 to $10 apiece, meaning they'd cost about $1,100 to $1,800 a year, for savings of several hundred dollars a year.
The savings are bigger for rechargeable e-cigarettes with disposable cartridges. For an initial investment between $10 and $35 and cartridges that cost $2.50 apiece, smokers in an average state would save almost $1,800 a year.
A note on health: None of this takes into consideration the potential costs of any health effects from nicotine addiction, which can be huge. Clearly, the way to save the most money is to kick nicotine entirely. And taking up either habit for the first time isn't going to be good for your wallet.