By Stephanie Stahl

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Coming to a store shelf near you: The latest offering from some major tobacco companies is an electronic cigarette. They’ve been on the market for years, but as Health Watch reporter Stephanie Stahl show us, this is the first time tobacco companies are getting in the game.

Gregory Conley says his electronic cigarette changed his life.

“I picked up an electronic cigarette and overnight, I had stopped smoking,” Conley said.

Instead of smoking, he puffs on this.  An electronic cigarette. It uses a battery to heat liquid with nicotine. People inhale the vapor. Advocates say e-cigarettes are a great alternative to traditional cigarettes.

Advocates say e-cigarettes are a great alternative to traditional cigarettes. Conley said, “The other option for about half of all smokers is to smoke until they die.”

Traditional cigarette companies are hopping on the e-cigarette bandwagon. Altria, the parent company of Phillip Morris, will start selling the MarkTen e-cigarette later this summer.  Reynolds American, makers of Camel cigarettes, just introduced VUSE, its own e-cigarette.

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E-cigarette advocate Carl Phillips, Ph.D., says this is big news.

“They’re big players,” Phillips said. “They have the enormous marketing strength the cigarette industry has used to sell their cigarettes for decades.”

E-cigarette makers have to walk a fine line with regulators. The FDA says they cannot claim e-cigarettes help people cure disease or quit smoking until studies prove it.

In documents obtained by Eyewitness News, some e-cigarette users and health professionals reported side effects to the FDA such as allergic reactions, shortness of breath, heart problems, headaches, rashes, vomiting, and more

“There still needs to be a lot of research done, a lot more research done, I should say, on whether these are effective ways to help people quit smoking as well,” said Deb Brown of the American Lung Association. The association doesn’t support e-cigarettes. It’s also concerned about the effects of secondhand vapor.

“I really think that in the future, there is going to be some recognition that there are many public health groups that got this issue wrong,” said Conley.

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The FDA regulates tobacco, so it’s expected to eventually propose new rules for e-cigarettes. Advocates hope they don’t muzzle the message of e-cigarettes.

Stephanie Stahl