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Items that let you cast a spell through them (e.g. wands , staves, etc) use specific wording such as:

While holding it, you can use an action to expend 1 or more of its charges to cast the xxxxxx spell...

The Censer of Controlling Air Elementals states

[...] you can use an action to speak the censer's command word and summon an air elemental, as if you had cast the conjure elemental spell.

Since it sounds like the air elemental is conjured by the item after uttering a command in 1 action and not by the user casting a spell with a 1 minute casting time, does it still count as a concentration spell for the user?

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Yes. This still requires concentration

DMG p. 141

The spell uses its normal casting time, range, and duration, and the user of the item must concentrate if the spell requires concentration. Many items, such as potions, bypass the casting of a spell and confer the spell's effects, with their usual duration. Certain items make exceptions to these rules, changing the casting time, duration, or other parts of a spell.

The item specifically calls out the exception to the casting time of Conjure Elemental and specifically limits said cast to only summoning Air Elementals.

DMG p 158

While incense is burning in this censer, you can use an action to speak the censer's command word and summon an air elemental, as if you had cast the conjure elemental spell.

The seeming confusion appears to be in the definition of the idiom "as if".

I think that interpretation of the first definition by some like @Carcosa and @NautArch here seems to be the contention.

1: as it would be if

So in the case of this item you speak a command word instead of doing the full casting of the spell. So maybe you did cast the spell or maybe the item cast the spell but since the description of the item doesn't say that you don't have to maintain concentration you do. There is no specific exception to the rules presented on page 141.

This means that you can simply replace "as if" as follows:

[...] you can use an action to speak the censer's command word and summon an air elemental, as it would be if you had cast the conjure elemental spell.

Thus treat the spell as though you had cast it therefore all rules apply normally except where specifically told to ignore them.

Take for example:

Blackrazor DMG p217

Blackrazor can cast the haste spell on you once per day. It decides when to cast the spell and maintains concentration on it so that you don't have to.

Potion of Speed DMG p188

When you drink this potion, you gain the effect of the haste spell for 1 minute (no concentration required).

Potion of Heroism DMG p188

For the same duration, you are under the effect of the bless spell (no concentration required).

For brevity Potion of Diminution, Potion of Growth, Potion of Gaseous Form also have the same override to p141.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Though I agree with the conclusion reached by this answer- I saw your previous comment on my own answer but intentionally decided to leave the reference to p.141 out, because that passage gives those rules for "when you cast a spell from an item", which I felt did not adequately resolve the ambiguity between "as if you had cast" and "you cast..." The additional example items are rather helpful, however. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcosa Apr 13 '20 at 0:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Carcosa I can understand that. I just think that too many people get caught up in the word choice and think that it has to mean something, many of whom don't remember that the books were not written by just one author and stylistic choices from each writer are prevalent. This hard definition stuff is a bit of a remnant of the min/max type writing of 3.X/PF and because they got away from the object oriented writing style it leaves things open for miscommunication on mechanics. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 13 '20 at 3:20
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Yes

The clause

as if you had cast the conjure elemental spell.

means you should treat this like casting the spell normally, which means concentration.

Magic items will specify when you do not need to maintain concentration on a spell. Compare to Blackrazor (DMG p.216), which can cast haste upon the wielder; it specifically says

It decides when to cast the spell and maintains concentration on it so that you don't have to.

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