Less regulated and possibly healthier than traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes could be a huge growth market for big tobacco. Already e-cigarette use in the US doubled from 2010 to 2011, according to the Center for Disease Control.
But the industry faces big risks too.
States are starting to regulate them, and it may be only a matter of time until the Food and Drug Administration comes out against them. E-cigarettes still don’t taste as good as cigarettes and some of them don’t work very well.
Finally, there’s the question of whether e-cigarettes will ever be cool. This is a big deal for an industry that has long relied on perceived coolness (with lots of help from Hollywood) to attract new smokers.
Some e-cigs are designed to look like cigarettes, right down to the glowing red tip, though they don’t burn down when smoked. Others come in sleek black with glowing blue tips. Either way, it’s hard to feel like James Dean while sucking a plastic glow stick.
E-cigarette-makers are tackling the image problem head-on, with press releases talking about how Robert Pattinson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl and Uma Thurman and other celebrities are turning to e-cigs. Then there are paid celebrity endorsements, like this video of actor Stephen Dorff talking looking handsome while smoking a Blu cigarette on the beach.
Still, many aren’t convinced.
Last month, Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher mocked the drummer from Muse after he caught him smoking an electronic cigarette. Said Gallagher: “I had to say to him: ‘Really? Really? Is that where you are at? Do me a favor, mate, either have a proper one outside, or don’t have one.’ It lit up green when he had a drag of it. Nonsense.”
E-cigs are inspiring ”contempt” from many traditional smokers, according to The Guardian’s Lionel Shriver.
Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan likewise said that electronic cigarettes will never be cool. He attributes this to a lack of danger: “Cigarettes were never cool just because of their phallic connotations, and the fact that they gave you something to do with your hands. They were cool because they are dangerous.”
What do other people think? Among the many commenters on Nolan’s article, the consensus seems to be that e-cigarettes are not cool but that that’s not why people smoke them.
RealAmurrican writes: “They sure do take all the coolness and romance out of smoking, but I was gifted one about a week ago, and let me say that they are PHENOMENAL for helping you quit.”
MrSnaps writes: “I have been using an electronic cig for over a year, mostly because I feel better in the mornings than when I did smoking traditional cigarettes. That said, no, E-cigs are not cool.”
Onceler writes: “heh, well, people may start smoking because it ‘looks cool’ and ‘represents danger’ or whatever, but they keep smoking because they are addicted to the chemical cocktail that’s unleashed when you inhale the smoke. and it’s very difficult to quit once you’re addicted. only in America would an invention like this come along that could save millions of lives (literally) and the cultural elite or what have you decide to mock it because it’s not ‘cool enough’ or ‘dangerous enough’ for them.”
There will be a demand for e-cigarettes regardless of the cool factor. Purported lameness will, however, prevent some smokers from switching and limit the number of new smokers.
That’s why more and more of the $10 billion spent on tobacco advertising in 2008 will be redirected to e-cigarettes. Luckily for the industry, it can advertise for e-cigarettes in many places where tobacco ads are banned. And don’t underestimate what the ad industry can accomplish.
One of the greatest feats in PR history was when Edward Bernays made smoking cool for women by getting debutantes at a 1929 parade to light up in unison, an event branded as Torches Of Freedom. Cigarette ads from back in the day were legendarily effective too — and you may remember that the first episode of “Mad Men” is all about branding for Lucky Strike.
NJOY currently controls 40 percent of the U.S. electronic cigarette market. Big tobacco companies are getting into the business too, with Lorillard buying blu ecigs earlier this year, and Reynolds developing its own technology. An analyst from investment bank Jefferies said he had ”high hopes for Next Generation Products” from Philip Morris too.
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