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For smokers, can e-cigarettes save money?

It's difficult to say yet whether electronic cigarettes are less harmful than regular fire-and-tobacco smokes, but they can save smokers hundreds, 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 US states increasingly look 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.

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.

E-cigarettes heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapour that users inhale. Smokers like them because the vapour looks like smoke but doesn't contain the thousands of chemicals, tar or odour 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.

Smoking is expensive.

The first consideration for someone looking to switch is whether to use disposable models or a refillable. The refillable models promise more savings in exchange for a bigger up-front investment.

Most disposable e-cigarettes say they're equivalent to about two packs of cigarettes and cost less, leading to possible savings of several hundred dollars a year.

The savings are bigger for rechargeable e-cigarettes with disposable cartridges.

There's also a more advanced option for the dedicated vaper: a tank system that is filled with vials of flavoured nicotine mixture. They cost more up-front but, with the liquid lasting days, promises significant savings over the year.

The numbers for an individual smoker can vary significantly depending on their preferred cigarette brand, where they live, the e-cigarette brand they choose and how much liquid nicotine or cartridges they buy at a time.

"Cigarettes were getting horribly expensive. ... I've thrown endless thousands of dollars away," said 52-year-old Jim Craig, of Salt Lake City, who switched to an e-cigarette in 2013 after smoking since he was 18.

Craig, who was spending upward of $US200 ($A216) per month on cigarettes, said he now spends about $US45 a month with his e-cigarette after an initial investment of $US200 for a rechargeable battery and refillable tank. He's been able to stash $US100 per month in a savings account.

"What we're going to do with that money down the road, I don't know," he said. "I may save it for retirement ... or we might decide to take a vacation or something like that."

But, the savings may not last. While many vapers just pay sales taxes, some US states place additional taxes on e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine. Others have considered such taxes. Restrictions proposed by the Food and Drug Administration in April also may push costs higher as companies comply with new rules.

On the other hand, heavy competition among e-cigarette sellers could push prices lower as well, especially as the big tobacco makers try to get into the business.