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Firestorm Over Smokeless Cigarette

Electronic cigarettes are opening a new front in the tobacco wars as state and local lawmakers try to restrict the product, which may allow users to circumvent smoking bans.

The battery-powered device is made up of a cartridge containing nicotine, flavoring and chemicals. It turns nicotine, which is addictive, into a vapor that is inhaled. Users say they're "vaping," not smoking.

E-cigarettes are used by at least a half-million Americans, says Matt Salmon, head of the Electronic Cigarette Association.

"People who smoke ought to have better alternatives, because some can't quit," he says. His father, a longtime smoker, died last week of cancer and emphysema.

Public health officials question the safety of e-cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates tobacco and nicotine replacement devices, says the e-cigarettes it tested had carcinogens. E-cigarette distributors have filed a lawsuit challenging the FDA's authority.

"It's a new frontier. We don't know what the dangers are," says John Banzhaf of Action on Smoking and Health, an anti-smoking group.

"We're actively investigating these companies and their products," says Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. Other actions:

• California passed a ban on e-cigarette sales, but Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it this month.

• Oregon Attorney General John Kroger, a Democrat, reached a settlement in August with retailers and distributors not to sell them.

• New Hampshire state Rep. Rich DiPentima, a Democrat, is crafting a bill to ban sales to minors.

• New Jersey state Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, a Democrat, plans a bill to subject e-cigarettes to the same restrictions as cigarettes.

• In Paramus, N.J., the health department's board plans to propose an ordinance today banning e-cigarettes where smoking is not allowed.

• In August, Suffolk County, N.Y., restricted e-cigarettes in public places and banned sales to minors.

To Julie Woessner, 46, a former smoker in Wildwood, Mo., they are "almost a miracle," allowing her to kick her two-packs-a-day cigarette habit.

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