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Smoking Version 2.0

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    Smoking Version 2.0

    MILAN, Italy - The NicStic is a cigarette-size plastic tube with a rechargeable heating coil that vaporizes tobacco instead of burning it.

    Pop a filter on the end of the tube, and in seconds it is warmed up enough for a nicotine fix without the smoke. Because it has no smoke, it also has none of the tar, arsenic, cadmium and formaldehyde of regular cigarettes; it also passes muster with local anti-smoking laws here.

    "I actually don't mind doing a bit of vogueing with this," said Victor Chambers, a former model and steady smoker, who tried the device at a reporter's request inside a crowded local bar. "Shivering in the rain for a smoke is just so last season."

    Vaporizers have been an underground hit with pot smokers; and with tobacco-smoking restrictions or bans in effect in 33 countries - from Cuba to Norway, and counting - cigarettes are primed for their own killer app.

    The NicStic kit, which retails online for 80 euros (about $100), comes with a small plastic heating case, three voltage adapters and a carton of filters in boxes that resemble standard cigarette packs. The heating case is powered by a 3.7-volt lithium battery like those found in cell phones or digital cameras; once charged, it can fire up about 20 fume-free smokes.

    Billed as "enjoyment without discrimination," it may seem to give smokers another crutch to maintain their nic addiction in the face of a vehement social backlash. But the device is winning support from some health officials as a way to help smokers who want to kick the habit.

    "It could be a useful bridge to help quit," said anti-smoking campaigner Dr. Giacomo Mangiaracina, of the Italian Society for the Study of the Effects of Tobacco.

    On the downside, NicStic is kind of an olfactory three-card monte: There's no smoke or its lingering funk but there is a distinct tobacco smell, unpleasant even to smokers. It's easy to see that nicotine also doubles as an effective insecticide - the smell of musky, dry tobacco sent every living thing in one apartment scampering for cover the day the kit arrived in the mail.

    Tobacco companies in the United States have been trying to hit on a safer or smokeless cigarette since the late 1980s.

    The products tested to date failed in part because they often tasted funny or were awkward to use. For example, Philip Morris' Accord cigarettes "burned smarter" but the cigarette had to stay in a battery-operated heater box while puffing.

    They haven't given up yet: R.J. Reynolds Tobacco has a smoke-reduced (but not smokeless) cigarette now on the market called Eclipse that vaporizes rather than burns tobacco, thanks to a charcoal tip.

    True smokeless cigarettes could hit U.S. markets soon. Erstwhile NicStic partner-turned-rival Metropolitan Worldwide demonstrated a smokeless device in Germany last year called Bel Air, and announced at the time plans to debut it commercially in the United States in early 2007.

    Metropolitan did not return e-mail requests seeking comment.

    In Italy, the Ministry of Health declared NicStic was not a drug and green-lighted its sale without any restrictions, according to NicStic.

    In the United States, smoke-free cigarettes are considered tobacco products (not drugs) so they fall under the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. This may change soon. There's a bill being debated now about handi
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