The new introduce you to the electronic-cigarette. These battery-powered gizmos sound like a ridiculous party gag, and as a matter of fact they are. But they also deliver users a serious portion of vaporized nicotine that is supposed to sate even the most demanding of smokers. As Der Spiegel reports—with a healthy puff of irony and caution—e-cigarettes could be “Smoking 2.0.”

In particular, these gadgets sidestep the 4,000-plus chemicals present in standard cigarette smoke that plume into one’s lungs from the burning of tobacco and tar. This allows e-cigarette smokers to avoid the 50 or so cancer-causing components of normal cigarettes. Not surprisingly, e-cigarette companies make grandiose statements about the health benefits of their wares.E-cigarettes work like this: Nicotine is dissolved in propylene glycol, and the combination is stored in a cartridge that is designed to look like a traditional orange cigarette filter. The nicotine cartridge screws onto the main body of the e-cigarette, which contains a rechargeable battery that powers an electrical circuit. When the smoker inhales, a sensor in the circuit is activated. This causes a red-light-emitting diode at the tip to turn on. More importantly, the nicotine and propylene glycol are heated up so that they vaporize and get sucked into the smoker’s lungs.