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by Jenni Mintz
VCStar.com

By now, Brandon Duke is used to the dirty looks and snide comments.

It’s been four months since he opened 21 Century Smoking, a kiosk that sells electronic cigarettes and cartridges at Pacific View mall in Ventura.

The image of Duke puffing away on what looks from a distance like a regular cigarette has ignited stares and scowls, even though electronic cigarettes emit water vapor, not smoke.

The tobacco-free, battery-operated devices — known as e-cigs — contain a cartridge sold in a variety of flavors and nicotine levels. When the user takes a drag, the battery heats up the liquid nicotine and creates a vapor, which is inhaled and then exhaled like smoke.

Duke said his company isn’t about encouraging smoking, but not everyone agrees.

Placing e-cigs in a youth-centric mall has sparked concern that the products could promote the image of smoking and lead some teens to try it. Meanwhile, federal officials worry about the health effects of e-cigs on users. And groups like Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights aren’t convinced the vapors they emit are harmless and argue they should be banned in public places.

May Lee Berry, health programs manager with the American Cancer Society, has urged mall management to ban e-cigarettes.

“Until the products are found to be safe and effective, they shouldn’t be on the market,” Berry said.

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