The Tech of E-Cigs

Classification of devices may tell the future of the subcategory’s growth

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

Electronic cigarette e-cig

OAKBROOK TERRRACE, Ill. -- Tobacco product or cessation device? Reduced-harm alternative or trendy gateway to underage smoking? Whether on NPR or in The New York Times or a local tobacco shop, there's plenty of debate on how electronic cigarettes should be classified. Yet rarely do you hear these products described as what they truly are: a tech device.

"The product that you saw just two years ago is dramatically different than you see today because of innovation," said Miguel Martin, president of Logic Technologies Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla.

"An electronic cigarette is more than just a consumable," agreed Andries Verleur, CEO and co-founder of Miami-based V2 Cigs. "As with other small-electronics categories, innovation and a rapid upgrade cycle are critical to ensure ongoing consumer interest. That's why you see a new iPhone every summer: The technology has to evolve to remain a viable option and stay competitive." 

Such a rate of innovation has been largely foreign to the tobacco category, in which most new products have centered on flavors or packaging as opposed to how the products actually operate. It's this potential that has attracted even longtime tobacco manufacturers, such as Swisher International, Jacksonville, Fla.

"Cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco have been around for centuries, and while there is some new innovation, there is far more potential for innovation in the e-cigarette category," said Ed Denk, Swisher's director of marketing. "I think technology being the driving factor will make it easier for companies and brands with the best innovations and product offerings to succeed, rather than the one with the most money to promote or the lowest price. This is totally different than what we see in the traditional tobacco segments."

Martin believes ongoing tech-based innovations to meet consumer demand is critical to the long-term success of both his company and the e-cigarette sector as a whole. "Logic has continued to innovate and take advantage of the technology opportunities that a product like an electronic cigarette has," he said. "I think that will be what differentiates companies and products in this space as we go forward."

Hearing some talk about e-cigarette technology is like reading a science-fiction novel or just thinking about how much cellphones have evolved over the past 15 years.

"I actually think that in 10 to 20 years, rather than comparing electronic cigarettes brands to traditional cigarettes, you'll see more people likening them to other, small electronics products," said Verleur. "Today, a smartphone or a smartwatch are extensions of the user's interests or style. As the technology in our space continues to get better and better, I think we'll see something similar occur with electronic cigarettes."

Only time will tell whether regulatory agencies will recognize the tech element of e-cigarettes and allow them to grow like other technology products, or restrict the industry with tobacco-like regulations. For now, the industry is holding its collective breath.

"Technology is our industry's lifeblood," Verleur said. "The industry will only grow with advances in technology and sustained innovation. We, as a category, still have work to do."

For a more in-depth look at the technology behind e-cigarettes, watch for the February issue of CSP magazine.