Swiss authorities have paved the way for the launch of what is being billed as the first ever smokeless and tobacco-free cigarette.
The Swiss producer of NicStic hopes to win converts among smokers who have been fighting a losing battle against the worldwide anti-tobacco lobby.
Swissmedic, the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products, has declared that NicStic is not a medicinal product.
"Therefore no formal approval according to health legislation is required for market introduction," Monique Helfer of Swissmedic told swissinfo.
"The fact that it is not a medicinal product excludes the possibility that NicStic could be reimbursed by health insurance," she added.
Barring any other legal obstacles, Swissmedic’s decision paves the way for the launch of the smoke- and tobacco-free cigarette. The canton Zug-based company hopes to put NicStic on the market by early next year.
The NicStic firm says it allows smokers to continue their nicotine addiction without harming others with passive smoke or themselves by inhaling toxic substances.
However, the Swiss Institute for Alcohol and Drug Prevention is critical of NicStic.
"Nicotine is what makes smoking addictive, and so this product changes nothing," the institute's Janine Messerli told swissinfo.
She said she doubted whether the "plastic cigarette" would become a real substitute for smokers.
The company says it wants to take advantage of the bans placed on smoking in many countries.
Switzerland still has among the most liberal laws in Europe, allowing smoking in many public places, but cantonal governments have been introducing laws restricting where smokers can light up.
Swiss public transportation companies have said smoking will be banned on all trains, buses and boat services by the end of the year.
NicStic claims that its product "emulates normal smoking by taking the form of a normal cigarette", and will be "exempt from non-smoking regulations and smoking bans, since it is absolutely smoke-free."
The cigarette-shaped device has a replaceable filter. A rechargeable heating coil placed in the plastic cylinder of the NicStic heats up a deposit of nicotine, which is drawn into the mouth like smoke from a cigarette.
swissinfo with agencies
A third of the Swiss population smoke or 1.75 million people between 15 and 74-years-old.
One million people are ex-smokers in Switzerland.
The majority of smokers are men and apprentices smoke more than students.
More than 4,000 toxic substances are said to be found in tobacco.
Tobacco abuse causes costs of more than SFr1 billion ($78 million).