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Holy smoke! What's with all this vaping?

Johnny Depp stars as

Johnny Depp stars as "Frank" in Columbia Pictures' thriller THE TOURIST, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. The movie is in theaters December 10, 2010. Credit: Peter Mountain Photo/

Hollywood and the tobacco industry used to be close friends, but public pressure has mostly stigmatized on-screen smoking. Now here comes a similar trend: vaping.

Never heard of vaping? It's the preferred term for using an electronic cigarette, a relatively recent invention that produces a steam-like nicotine vapor. Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, may or may not be a healthful alternative to regular "analog" cigarettes - few studies on them exist. Nevertheless, they're becoming the entertainment industry's new habit.

In the new Sony Pictures thriller "The Tourist," the e-cig makes its most high-profile appearance yet, between the fingers of Johnny Depp. After helpfully explaining the gizmo to his co-star Angelina Jolie, Depp puffs away on a train and even over dinner at a restaurant. These scenes are likely to make today's ostracized smokers green with envy (which may be the point). Depp's character says he's quitting smoking, though many e-cigarette vendors carefully avoid making any cessation claims.

Depp isn't the first celebrity vaper. Leonardo DiCaprio has been spotted puffing an e-cig. Tom Petty told Parade magazine he uses one. And Katherine Heigl essentially proselytized for e-cigs when she vaped away on "Late Show With David Letterman" earlier this year.

The e-cig industry, like Big Tobacco before it, is proactively pushing its product. Blu, one of the most recognizable e-cig brands, managed to place its packs in this year's Grammy gift bags. Gradually, it seems, the general public is getting a message: Vape 'em if you got 'em.


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