As if the debate surrounding the risks of increasingly popular e-cigarette and marijuana-vaporizing devices wasn’t hot enough already, the Dutch company E-Njoint, BV, has released what it calls the first electronic joint, igniting new concerns about the safety of e-smoking products.

Whether the new offering, which resembles a classic marijuana cigarette, should rightly be called a joint is debatable, given that it holds not a touch of cannabis. The product, named the E-njoint Disposable, is what the company calls a “100 percent legal electronic joint” that contains “no THC, tobacco or nicotine,” making it “harmless and 100 percent legal.” (Tetrahydrocannabinol is the active compound in marijuana.) The device is battery-powered and vaporizes a liquid comprising vegetable-glycerin and polypropylene-glycol, with added “biological” flavors such as passion fruit and watermelon.

The company has been manufacturing 10,000 of these devices a day and is now preparing to double production because, it says, it has been receiving inquiries from distributors worldwide every three minutes.

The next version of the product, however, may fit the billing as an electronic joint. E-Njoint CEO Menno Contant says that the company is getting ready to launch a device that is both rechargeable and refillable, and can be filled with cannabis or a derivative. “Once the cartridges are empty, users are able to fill these cartridges with a liquid. Those liquids may be standard liquids bought at any store around the world or it could be an extract of a cannabis plant,” he says. “We don’t provide the cannabis extract or anything like that. We just provide the tools.”

The company also plans to release an e-joint that can be used with “dry herbs,” including marijuana, in the near future.

Among those who dispute that the new product is groundbreaking is Pamela Ling, professor and director of the Tobacco Control Policy Fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Research and Education. “While this company is the first, to my knowledge, to call its product an ‘electronic joint,’ the idea of using electronic vaporizers for THC or marijuana is not new, and this company is far from the first,” she says. “There are several products in the U.S. that either overtly or euphemistically brand themselves as devices useful for marijuana.”

Mike Van Dyke, chief of the Environmental Epidemiology, Occupational Health and Toxicology Section in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, agrees and expresses a larger concern. Like other public health experts, Van Dyke says he is anxious about the repercussions of the growing popularity of the vaporizing devices. “You worry about any type of alternative drug delivery method that somehow gets perceived as safe. You worry about people who wouldn’t initially start smoking, starting to do drugs. You worry about this opening up marijuana use to a whole new population,” he says.

Contant argues that e-joints are much safer than e-cigarettes. “An electronic cigarette contains nicotine, and nicotine is one of the most dangerous and most addictive products that is out there,” he notes. “We do not sell any products that contain nicotine.”

A representative of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration refused to comment on e-joints, referring Scientific American to the FDA’s Web site, which outlines the agency’s policies on marijuana. The policies say nothing specifically about vaporizing devices.

Ling, however, takes issue with the assertion that e-smoking devices containing marijuana are necessarily safer than standard e-cigarettes. “We don’t have any data to compare these devices. They seem to differ mainly in voltage, heat generated and what is put into them, but health effects would also depend on frequency and intensity of use and other unknown factors,” she says.

For those who use medical marijuana (which is legal in 22 states and the District of Columbia), it is conceivable that taking it in a vaporized form may be safer than smoking the weed, and Van Dyke says that researchers in California are looking into the merits of different delivery methods. With vaporizing, he notes, “you do get a lot less of the tars and organic compounds that could lead to cancer than you do with smoking.” A Canadian study that compared vaporized with smoked marijuana, however, found a particularly high concentration of ammonia was emitted by the former, according to Van Dyke. Ultimately, he says “if you don’t know what's going into these products, then you have a large possibility of exposure. It’s not safe, although it’s probably somewhat safer than smoking.”

For his part, Contant defends his products. “The Dutch are famous for drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll, and I want to prove also to the world that we are a fun country and that as long as you do something that doesn’t bother other people, then it’s okay,” he says. “We are not trying to break any laws. We are staying within the limits, and we are trying to get people a good time, except we are leaving out all the tar and nicotine and dangerous goods.”