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Electronic cigarettes: In need of FDA regulation?

A federal judge is expected to rule soon on whether the FDA has the authority to regulate electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine but not tobacco.

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They look like cigarettes, but they have names most people have never heard of: Gamucci, Cloud 9, and Njoy.

That's because they are electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes. These battery-powered devices do not create smoke but provide a mist of nicotine to the user's lungs.

These items are about to become better known because a federal judge is expected to decide shortly on whether the Food and Drug Administration has authority to regulate them. The devices, which do not contain tobacco, are already being sold around the country.

From the FDA's viewpoint, the e-smokes are "drug delivery" devices, the same as nicotine gum, which is regulated by the agency. The industry association for the product describes it as an "alternative to tobacco," and the association says it would like to work with the FDA. The public-health community is divided, with some wanting to see more research on the items and others seeing them as a way to help people quit tobacco use.

Already, e-cigarettes are entering the public arena.

One airline, Ryanair, which mainly operates in Europe, not only permits their use on flights, but also sells them to passengers. Some "no smoking" restaurants in the United States are permitting their use, say advocates for the product.

The devices are also available as e-cigars and e-pipes.

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