Drinking a can of soda looks very much like drinking a can of beer. But it’s not. Likewise, puffing on an electronic cigarette to sate one’s urge for nicotine looks very much like smoking a real cigarette. But it’s not.

You wouldn’t know that from the agitations of anti-smoking busybodies, who can’t tolerate anything that remotely resembles smoking. Their consensus: E-cigarettes must be banned.

As Reason.com’s Nick Gillespie wrote in a Sunday piece for The Daily Beast website, e-cigarettes increasingly are subjected to bans, prohibitions and all-around undue criticism. Legislation under consideration in Massachusetts would ban giving away e-cigarettes or using them anywhere that tobacco use has been banned, even though e-cigarettes don’t have any tobacco.

It would seem the biggest problem for these nanny-staters is that they are victims of their own success. In the mid-1960s, Mr. Gillespie noted, more than 40 percent of Americans smoked. Today just 20 percent of the population lights up. However, much of the decrease came in the two decades after the U.S. surgeon general’s 1964 report, which "told Americans what they already knew: cigarettes were called ‘coffin nails’ and ‘cancer sticks’" for good reason, he wrote.

Now, with the advent and growing popularity of e-cigarettes — battery-powered, reusable devices that allow users to inhale and exhale smoke- and odor-free nicotine vapor — the anti-tobacco lobby has an opportunity to make more headway, to help more people regain their health and kick the habit. But because the solution looks like smoking — even though it really isn’t — the zealots can’t have that. Better to have more dead from lung cancer.

The federal government long ago clamped down on cigarettes with huge regulations, not the least of which is requiring the disclaimer on packaging noting just how unhealthful the product is. Furthermore, government at all levels continues to pile sin taxes on cigarettes.

The now-booming e-cigarette industry was born out of this overwhelming hostility to tobacco, but it appears the anti-tobacco lobby also wants to stifle those entrepreneurs, who are actually helping people quit smoking. And governments would appear to fear the loss of all that cigarette tax revenue.

Everyone acknowledges the health issues and costs associated with smoking tobacco. But the movement to shut down an extremely sensible alternative is totally misguided. Too often, the government rushes to tax, regulate or ban every product and practice. What is the problem with leaving the e-cigarette industry alone, allowing it to grow and help people quit smoking? Would that be such a bad thing?

A version of this editorial appeared Aug. 29 in the Las Vegas Review-Journal