E-cigarettes are smoking hot.

e-cigarette

There’s no tar. No smoke (only “vapor”). No odor (unless you want it). And so far no one has officially declared it hazardous to your health. Welcome to the charmed world of the electronic cigarette.

This columnist first saw the e-cigarette demonstrated at the 2009 CES trade show in Las Vegas. There were several booths set up crowded with people puffing happily away. And they were selling faster than $10 cartons of Marlboros out of the back of a pickup truck in rural Georgia.

The e-cigarette is a plastic tube, generic shaped like a “real” cig, treatment with a battery-powered heating element in the mouthpiece that vaporizes a liquid that contains nicotine. A tiny microprocessor activates droplets of the liquid to vaporize the mixture. There’s also an LED light at the end which lights up with every puff. You have to see this to believe it and there are plenty of clips on You Tube where you can do exactly that.

Touted by companies as a “safer nicotine delivery system,” there are growing concerns that e-cigarettes may be just as harmful as the real thing. California Attorney General Jerry Brown recently filed suit Alameda County Superior Court against a Florida company claiming that e-cigarettes contain dangerous chemicals and are being improperly marketed to children.

Despite this, the cigarettes are readily available by mail order or local store. In the Bay Area, smokers can check out the latest technology through the Vapor Den in Berkeley, a small startup which specializes in e-cigarette products.

And, the courts have finally weighed in. A federal judge recently ordered the Food and Drug Administration to end the blockage of e-cigarettes from China. The ruling cleared the way for the high tech cigs to be regulated just like any other tobacco product.

What’s interesting is that Big Tobacco has so far not become involved in this young industry. The betting here is that it will be only a matter of time before we see new brands hitting the market bearing some very familiar names. Are you ready for the e-Kool?

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