The World Health Organization says it does not consider the so-called electronic cigarette to be a legitimate therapy for smokers trying to quit. WHO says it neither approves nor endorses claims by manufacturers and marketers of the electronic cigarette, which allows users to inhale a mist of nicotine into the lungs. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

The World Health Organization says there is absolutely no scientific evidence that the electronic cigarette is a legitimate nicotine replacement therapy that can help people quit smoking real cigarettes.

Director of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, Douglas Bettcher, says marketers should stop making these bogus claims. "Any assertion that the World Health Organization considers the electronic cigarette to be a legitimate therapy to help smokers trying to quit is absolutely, 100 percent false. It is of great concern that certain manufacturers of these electronic cigarettes around the world have included WHO's name, for example on their web site or in their package inserts or in their advertisements as having endorsed these products. This is absolutely false."

Bettcher says WHO has sent a cease and desist letter to specific manufacturers of the electronic cigarette to tell them to remove WHO's name and logo from any of their marketing material.

A Hong-Kong based Chinese firm invented the electronic cigarette in 2004. It is sold there and in numerous countries, including Brazil, Canada, Finland, Israel, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

The device is made of stainless steel, has a chamber for storing liquid nicotine in various concentrations, is powered by a rechargeable battery and resembles a real cigarette.

Users puff on it as they would a real cigarette, but they do not light it, and it produces no smoke. Instead, it produces a fine, heated mist, which is absorbed into the lungs.

Dr. Bettcher says there is no scientific evidence to confirm that the electronic cigarette is safe and effective.

"Toxicological tests and clinical trials have not been performed on this product and the number of chemical additives in the product, which could be very toxic has not yet been confirmed...And we do not know whether the cigarette may actually have the opposite effect claimed by the manufacturers and it may actually encourage non-smokers, particularly young people and children to start smoking. We do not know that yet. But, this is untested and also in certain jurisdictions where it is being used as well, it seems to be used to evade the smoking bans in public places and work places."

The electronic cigarette is not cheap. Bettcher says the whole apparatus in Bulgaria costs $100 and the rechargeable nicotine pack costs about $14. He says the product is sold around the world mainly through the Internet. This way he says, manufacturers can evade country regulations and taxes.