Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS, also called electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes) are marketed to deliver nicotine and sometimes other substances by inhalation. Some tobacco smokers report that they used ENDS as a smoking cessation aid. Whether sold as tobacco products or drug delivery devices, these products need to be regulated, and thus far, across countries and states, there has been a wide range of regulatory responses ranging from no regulation to complete bans. The empirical basis for these regulatory decisions is uncertain, and more research on ENDS must be conducted in order to ensure that the decisions of regulators, health care providers and consumers are based on science. However, there is a dearth of scientific research on these products, including safety, abuse liability and efficacy for smoking cessation. The authors, who cover a broad range of scientific expertise, from basic science to public health, suggest research priorities for non-clinical, clinical and public health studies. They conclude that the first priority is to characterize the safety profile of these products, including in long-term users. If these products are demonstrated to be safe, their efficacy as smoking cessation aids should then be tested in appropriately designed trials. Until these studies are conducted, continued marketing constitutes an uncontrolled experiment and the primary outcome measure, poorly assessed, is user health. Potentially, this research effort, contributing to the safety and efficacy of new smoking cessation devices and to the withdrawal of dangerous products, could save many lives.