Three new studies from the Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois, in Chicago, show that e-cigarettes are increasing in popularity, that they are becoming increasingly available in stores frequented by youth, that regulation of these products is lagging behind their growing use, and that they are highly sensitive to price increases.

The research, part of the State and Community Tobacco Control Program, funded by the National Cancer Institute, was published online June 17 in a special issue of Tobacco Control.

These and other related studies reflect an emerging debate that is dividing the research community, according to experts. On one side are those who argue that e-cigarettes are just a way for Big Tobacco to market them as a gateway to other tobacco products. On the other side are those who believe e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes and could mean an enormous reduction in healthcare costs.

“There’s potential for lot of good and potential for lot of harm” with e-cigarettes, said Frank J. Chaloupka, PhD, distinguished professor of economics and at the University of Illinois. “I think some balance of regulation that limits marketing of e-cigarettes and limits kids’ access to them is the most appropriate thing to do.”