You've heard of e-mail, e-books, and maybe e-commerce.
But what a lot of Americans are talking about now are e-cigarettes.
Electronic cigarettes, mostly made in China, first appeared in the United States a couple of years ago, and they're no longer a novelty. An estimated one-half-million Americans, especially those who are trying to kick the smoking habit, have switched to them. The federal government, which heavily regulates tobacco products, wants to oversee e-cigarettes as well. But their makers are fighting hard to prevent it.
E-cigs look like cigarettes. They even have a cork-like filter. When the user inhales deeply, a battery activates an atomizer that quickly heats a chamber full of water, nicotine, and a chemical that has a faintly sweet taste.
But taking a long drag on an e-cig is not smoking. There's no smoke, no second-hand smoke, no cigarette butts on the floor. There's no lighting up with a match or lighter, either – just a cool, electric-red glow at the end of the e-cig stick. So technically, e-cigarettes would not seem to violate no-smoking restrictions in public places.
The trade group that is supporting e-cigarette manufacturers in court estimates that an e-cig kit costing a little less than $100 can last a former pack-a-day cigarette smoker ten days.
The industry maintains that smokeless cigarettes are not stop-smoking devices, even though many e-cig users say they almost miraculously helped them end or reduce their smoking habits.
But several states and the federal Food and Drug Administration insist that nicotine is nicotine – addictive and subject to their control.
The music industry can't be happy about e-cigs, either. If sales keep growing, popular song lyrics like Smoke Gets in Your Eyes won't work any more.
Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.