If you’ve ever seen someone smoking a cigarette in a place where smoking is not allowed, it could be an electronic cigarette or e-cigarette.

E-cigarettes are devices made of cigarette-size tubes that contain a cartridge filled with nicotine and other chemicals.  A battery-operated atomizer inside the device creates a vapor from the chemicals, which is inhaled by the user.  Flavor can be added to the mix, including choices like cherry and vanilla.

The gadgets are usually marketed as a safer way for smokers to get their nicotine fix, since they don’t produce secondhand smoke or chemical byproducts from burning tobacco.  Some sellers claim e-cigarettes can help smokers kick the habit; however, the World Health Organization says they are not a smoking cessation aid.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also challenging e-cigarette claims.  Agency tests in 2009 found cancer-causing agents and toxic chemicals in the devices.  The FDA has been fighting a legal battle to regulate the sale and distribution of electronic cigarettes, which are widely available online and at some retail outlets.