Wichita Electronic cigarettes are letting smokers "light up" in the face of the statewide smoking ban that took effect last week.
The devices look and draw like a regular cigarette and the smoker still gets a jolt of nicotine, the ingredient that causes the "buzz."
Most "e-cigarettes" have a light-emitting diode where the burning ash would normally be.
A spokesman for the Kansas Attorney General's Office said that since no burning tobacco is involved, the ersatz cigarettes are not covered by the statewide indoor smoking ban that passed the Legislature in February.
The statewide prohibition took effect across most of Kansas on Thursday. In Wichita, a 2008 city smoking ordinance remains in force, pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the state ban.
Users of e-cigarettes have coined the term "vaping" to describe their activity and distance it from smoking.
E-cigarettes are marketed under a variety of trade names, primarily at tobacco shops, over the Internet and in some cases, at mall kiosks.
E-cigarettes contain a small reservoir of nicotine solution. When the user puffs on the device, a heating element creates a vapor that the smoker inhales.
Manufacturers say it's safer than a real cigarette because the nicotine solution doesn't contain the carcinogenic byproducts found in burning tobacco -- and the exhalation is harmless water vapor.
Not everyone agrees.
The Food and Drug Administration banned importation of e-cigarettes last year and issued a health advisory, saying that its analysis had found some of the products contained toxic chemicals and cancer-causing agents.
The agency also expressed concern that the products, which come in a variety of flavors, could be marketed to minors.
The import ban was lifted in January by a Washington federal court judge who ruled the FDA had overstepped its authority.
A second trial is scheduled for September on slightly different questions, said Noelle Neis, a spokeswoman for Vapor Corp., manufacturer of the "Krave 500" e-cigarette.
Krave's packaging indicates it hasn't been approved by the FDA and that nicotine is highly addictive. It also carries a warning that the product should be sold to or used only by those of legal smoking age.
There are two basic kinds of e-cigarettes -- disposable and rechargeable, Neis said.
The rechargeable type have been around longer and are generally less expensive.
The disposables are more convenient, aimed at casual smokers and easier to sell in bars and other locations where smoking has been recently banned, she said.
A Krave 500 disposable e-cigarette purchased at a Wichita tobacco shop last week cost $19.95.
It's good for about 500 puffs, the equivalent of about 2 1/2 packs of regular cigarettes, Neis said.
Kansas House Bill 2221, which passed earlier this year and established the state ban, defines smoking as "possession of a lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, or burning tobacco in any other form or device."
E-cigarettes are more comparable to nicotine gum, patches or non-electronic smokeless cigarettes used as stop-smoking aids, which also are immune to the ban, said Gavin Young of the attorney general's office.
"I think tobacco is the key piece," he said.