The federal government should regulate e-cigarettes and states should forbid their sale to minors, but an outright ban would conflict with the goal of reducing harm when possible, public health officials wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

E-cigarettes - battery-operated nicotine-delivery devices that look like conventional cigarettes but that emit vapor instead of smoke - have become the subject of increasing public debate as their popularity grows. Sales in this country are projected to reach $1.7 billion this year, and their use is growing among young people.

Some of the debate relates to whether they are being used to help people quit smoking or whether they are a potential "bridge" to a resurgence in tobacco use, the Columbia University authors wrote.

Using e-cigarettes is known as "vaping," and liquids used in them come in dozens of fruit and candy flavorings that are added to the nicotine.

Marketers have capitalized on some of the objections to conventional cigarettes. The journal authors note one ad that has talk-show host Jenny McCarthy saying, "Smelling like an ashtray is not the ideal aphrodisiac." - L.A. Times