Dollars and Sense: It’s going to be a ‘Vaping’ New Year

It’s hard to deny the disruption taking place in the tobacco industry as more smokers are switching to electronic cigarettes.  The category has no signs of slowing down either, with sales of e-cigs expected to reach $10 billion by 2017, eventually eclipsing the $90 billion U.S. tobacco market in the next decade.

With the FDA’s deeming regulations looming, e-cig manufacturers are stuck in limbo, trying to gauge the administration’s upcoming sales and marketing guidelines.  While some brands are touting a hip lifestyle, most e-cig companies are focusing their messaging on electronic cigarettes as a unique alternative to traditional tobacco, minimizing the negative effects of smoking.

Consumer advocacy groups and local municipalities are closely watching.  Some cities have restricted the use of electronic cigarettes in public places, similar to the way traditional tobacco smoking is banned from inside restaurants and office buildings.  This may have impacted short-term momentum, albeit slightly, especially since many of the e-cig marketers highlighted the ability to “vape” anywhere as a key attribute.

E-cigs will endure, however.  Smokers adapted to “no smoking” rules and so will vapers.   It’s not because of big tobacco’s marketing muscle either.  Several independent e-cig companies are leading the category.  The fact is more than 45 million Americans smoke and the vast majority of them want to quit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

E-cigs work, too.  A University of Auckland study of traditional smokers looking to quit found that 7.3 percent of e-cigarette users had quit within six months, compared with 5.8 percent of those on nicotine patches.  The success of these products is mainly because they mimic the look and feel of a traditional cigarette.  Smokers want an alternative to traditional tobacco and electronic cigarettes are an effective solution, whether they want to quit or not.

The money will keep rolling in for e-cig companies, but these manufacturers must be good corporate citizens to sustain future growth.  Brand creation is necessary to build loyal customer relationships, but the marketing should be less about the “coolness” factor and more about the common sense of using a better alternative to smoking, a trendy message in its own right.

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