As the use of electronic cigarettes becomes more popular, endorsed by actors like Jenny McCarthy and Stephen Dorff, public health officials are raising alarms about the devices leading to underage nicotine use and surreptitious cannabis use.

The development and marketing of the e-cigarettes has capitalized on a longing for freedom by smokers from odious anti-smoking laws. “I’m tired of feeling guilty every time I want to light up,” Stephen Dorff explains in his Blu e-cig ad, “You can smoke Blu almost anywhere.  We’re all adults here; it’s time we take our freedom back.” Jenny McCarthy raves that she “finally found a smarter alternative to cigarettes,” and thanks to no ash, no odor, no tobacco-scented hair and stained teeth, she “feels better about myself” and “took back my freedom.”

But that same freedom to inhale vaporized nicotine from an e-cigarette comes with unintended consequences. In most US states, laws regulating cigarette smoking and tobacco purchases do just that, specifically. That means the vaporized liquid nicotine (which isn’t tobacco) and a hand-held vaporizer (which isn’t a cigarette) do not fall under these regulations. That would include age limits on purchasing cigarettes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, teen experimentation with e-cigs rose from 4.7% in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012.

Regulators are working feverishly to restrict access to e-cigs by youth and open use of e-cigs by adults. A Florida representative filed a bill on Friday to add the same restrictions to e-cigs as regular cigarettes. An Ohio lawmaker wants the same sin taxes for cigarettes applied to e-cigs. New York has already banned sales to minors, near schools and on public trains. Massachusetts’ proposal would ban e-cig use anywhere cigarette smoking is banned.

All these knee-jerk bans on e-cigs ignore one important point: they are a safer alternative to cigarettes. Forbes’ latest op-ed asks “Why Is The FDA Shielding Smokers From The Good News About E-Cigarettes?” The author, a medical doctor, notes studies showing that e-cigs help many smokers successfully quit cigarettes.When most of the deleterious health effects of smoking come from the smoke, not the nicotine, eliminating the smoke is a net public good. He also explains that the non-profits behind anti-e-cig activism are heavily funded by the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the pills, gums and patches they sell to help you quit smoking.

European regulators recently rejected calls to treat vapes as tightly-regulated medical devices and instead went with common-sense restrictions, like an age requirement of 18 and bans on advertising. But in the United States, if the reflexive repulsion to adults getting away with nicotine use and the “what about the children?!?” fear-mongering isn’t enough to cripple the nascent e-cigarette industry, perhaps the media’s overdue discovery about vaporization of cannabis will.

New York’s NBC 4 investigated the phenomenon, with HIGH TIMES’ Bobby Black explaining how “younger generation is embracing it” and how “this is a new way” of consuming cannabis.  Vaporization, NBC explained, allows the consumer to use cannabis without the distinct odor of burning weed. NBC even spoke to a lifelong toker who told of using his cannabis e-cig on the train from Baltimore to New York without detection.

We’ve long explained how cannabis vaporization is a healthier alternative to smoke and many medical marijuana patients in America couldn’t utilize cannabis without vaporization. But now vaporizers have evolved from big table-top Volcanos and Silver Surfers to the handheld portable vape pens and sticks that are indistinguishable from the e-cigarettes. Some manufacturers are even responding to users who’ve jerry-rigged an e-cig into a cannabis vape by creating models that can work with nicotine or hash oils.

Both nicotine and cannabis vaping would be a huge public health improvement for this country but both face an uphill battle against prohibition-minded legislators. Will cannabis vaping become the excuse states use to ban all e-cigarettes? Or will smokers rise up and fight for their own freedom, and by proxy help us tokers secure some freedom of our own?

"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of The Russ Belville Show, live at 3pm Pacific.