While state legislators debated a smoking ban in bars and restaurants, their hooked constituents were eying the electronic cigarette, a battery-powered version of the hotly contested paper-and-tobacco variety

LED-ignited e-cigarettes produce a smoke-like vapor — minus the familiar smell and second-hand dangers. And they purportedly deliver a nicotine buzz with none of the associated tar or additives.

Propylene glycol creates the mist that distributors market as a healthy alternative to the real thing. However, only minimal research has been conducted regarding the claim.

In July, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that e-smokes contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals, such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze.

According to The New York Times, the FDA has, in fact, blocked numerous shipments of e-cigarettes from other countries, citing them as “unapproved drug-device projects.”

Where they are available, normal tobacco laws still apply. They may not be sold to minors, for example. They’re not cheap (though over time they would be more affordable than repeated Camel consumption). The cigarette with charger can top $100.

If e-cig distributors are right, the device could send tobacco-induced diseases up in smoke. They also could ease the prevailing tension between smokers and clean-air advocates.

For the time being, outspoken critics of smoking may want to look closely before scolding puffers. These days, where there’s smoking, there’s not necessarily fire.

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