Introduced in the United States two years ago, electronic cigarettes are no longer a novelty item but a popular option for many smokers -- especially those who want to quit. Inhaling on the cigarette-shaped device activates a built-in battery, which heats up a mixture of water, nicotine and propylene glycol to give the "smoker" a vapor hit of the addictive substance found in cigarettes -- but without the smoke. It even lights up at the other end, mimicking the tip of a cigarette.
E-cigarettes are the latest of a wave of nicotine-packing products -- including bottled water and lollipops -- to face the wrath of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency believes it has the authority to regulate them. But marketers of the electronic devices, most of which are made in China, are putting up a big fight. They have sued, arguing that the FDA has no jurisdiction over their merchandise because, unlike nicotine patches or gum, which the agency does regulate, it is not a smoking-cessation product. They also deny the FDA's contention that e-cigarettes are a drug-delivery device, which the agency also regulates.
In their zeal to avoid regulation, though, spokesmen for this fast-growing business have been engaging in doublespeak. They argue that e-cigarettes are just a "smoking alternative," and in the same breath tout their superiority over gum or patches as a way to divert smokers from tobacco products.