Get your e-fix

Some local cigarette smokers snuffed out by Montana's Clean Indoor Air Act (CIAA) are finding a smoke-free alternative in electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes. But whether or not the product is permissible under the new law, which went into effect Oct. 1, remains hazy, and it could be a while before the state can clear the air.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that often resemble regular cigarettes and produce nicotine vapor by heating a nicotine-chemical solution. Manufacturers dub the product a safe alternative to cigarettes—and a legal alternative in the more than 30 states that have passed some sort of smoking ban.

"We have heard they are being used in a couple of bars," says Linda Lee, director of the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program, "but we have not done any surveying, etc."

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But even limited use, Lee says, has caused controversy.

"The main debate has been about whether or not e-cigarettes are illegal based upon the language in the CIAA," she wrote in an Oct. 7 memo to the state's tobacco prevention specialists. "This debate may continue until studies of the nicotine-containing vapor emitted from the e-cigarettes have been thoroughly tested. There is also the question about whether or not the sale of these products is legal."

Lee explains that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) jurisdiction over e-cigarettes is being challenged in federal court, but based on current federal law, e-cigarettes would be considered illegal, and warns that Montana retailers shouldn't assume otherwise.

Despite manufacturers' claims, the product's safety has been called into question as well. In July, the FDA announced that a laboratory analysis of e-cigarette samples found that they contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze.

If that's not enough to deter the persistent smoker, the price might. One manufacturer, White Cloud, sells its e-cigarette unit—which includes two batteries, five cartridges (in the flavors of your choice, including chocolate, banana and whiskey) and one USB charger—for $189.99.

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