Views From the Electronic Frontline

First-hand perspectives from Wells Fargo’s E-Cig Forum

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

E-Lites' U.K. Commercial

E-Lites' U.K. Commercial

NEW YORK -- Last week I had the good fortunate of attending Wells Fargo’s E-Cig Forum, along with passionate and interested parties from the worlds of finance, public health and tobacco. As arguably the first gathering of its kind (at least in the United States), I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What we were treated to was a series of thought-provoking one-on-one “fireside chats” between analyst (and admitted “e-cig bull”) Bonnie Herzog and the leaders of several top electronic cigarette companies, supplemented by two incredibly informative panels on the public health and regulatory issues surrounding this segment.

More importantly, those of us in the audience saw first-hand just how much interest electronic cigarettes are garnering. One attendant even dubbed the event as e-cig’s “Woodstock” – something the industry would look back on as a definitive moment for the segment.

“The buzz, the money, the excitement for a golden bullet in the tobacco arena—one besought with ever increasing taxation, municipal to statewide restrictions and exculpation—was intensely palpable,” observed CSP’s group editor Mitch Morrison. “Investors were hungry and so were the parade of CEOs representing e-cigs.”

While we will continue to cover the many important topics addressed at the Wells Fargo Forum, here are some of my personal observations:

The FDA Is Watching (and Reading)

I’ve been told that when we cover this segment (and really, the entire tobacco category), the FDA pays attention. But I don’t know that I really believed it until I met a representative from the agency at this event: she recognized my name immediately and said she was happy to put a face to it. So to all the retailers out there, if you have a view you’d like to share with the FDA, let’s put it in writing. And to anyone from the FDA who may be reading this, we’d welcome the opportunity to share your insights as well!

These Guys Have Some Passionate—and Witty—Insights on Regulations and Public Health

  • "Our product and this industry brings a much better option for (smokers). I'm optimistic that one day we'll be able to talk about it.” (Elliot Maisel, FIN Branding Group’s chairman and CEO)
  • "I cannot see a suit in the FDA approving the NJOY’s Courtney Love ad.” (Clive Bates, director of Counterfactual Consulting and Advocacy, and former head of Action on Smoking and Health)
  • "When the (Tobacco Control) Act was signed into law, I commented that it was outdated by time the ink dried.” (Scott Ballin, tobacco and health policy consultant)
  • "I have a glass of water here – does that mean someone’s going to go out and drink a glass of vodka because it looks the same? Take that regulators!” (Adrian Everett, CEO of E-Lites)

Vaping/Liquid Products Should Not Be Ignored

Tanks. Smoke Juice. Mods. E-Liquids. Vaping. We’ve all heard of these products, maybe even sampled some at trade shows like NACS and NATO. But they’ve largely taken a secondary seat to traditional electronic cigarette products (dubbed “cigalikes”), at least in the c-store industry. Yet, with approximately 26% of the U.S. e-cig market preferring the large vaping devices that allow consumers to create their own flavored vaping blend—and significantly more than 26% of the global market preferring this method—it’s becoming a sub-segment worth covering. And, as several vaper-enthusiasts informed me via Twitter, even if the FDA bans flavors in electronic cigarettes, it will be very difficult to ban flavors in smoke juices (which for the most part are classified as an agricultural product, not a tobacco product). 

This Is A HUGE Global Business

As a retail publication, we typically focus on U.S. products and sales. Of course, I was aware that electronic cigarettes were popular across the globe – but the sheer diversity in the voices at this forum really brought the point home. Questions were asked in virtually every accent imaginable, from Italian to Japanese to Australian. And, as strict as the regulations might be stateside, we have it easy compared to the U.K.: when looking to air the country’s first electronic cigarette television ad, E-Lites had to do so without showing or mentioning cigarettes, electronic cigarettes or smoking of any kind. (For what it’s worth, the commercial—which featured a man stepping out for an assumed smoke break and missing a break-dancing baby—was fantastic all the same).

There Is Still Lots To Learn

This isn’t exactly an epiphany…but with this segment innovating and growing at the rate you’d expect in the tech world, it’s an ongoing education for all of us. I hope you’ll continue to learn with CSP.