Tobacco: The ‘Cig-Alike’ Conundrum

Resembling combustible cousins may be hindrance for some e-cigs

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

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In fact, Vuse, which is available only in Colorado and Utah for now, was the sixth best-selling e-cig product in those states, according to Nielsen, with a respective 2.5% and 1.6% unit and dollar share.

“I would hazard a guess that [non-cigarette-looking products] are a good 70% of the market, and growing,” Martin says. “It says a lot about the consumer.”

Sending a Message

Tobacco analyst Modi agrees that the shift away from “cig-alikes” says quite a bit, especially because he believes appearance is the primary difference between these options.

“The difference really comes down to word of mouth,” he says. “If you’re smoking something that doesn’t look like a cigarette, it intrigues people; if you’re smoking an e-cig that looks like a cigarette, people start to question what you’re doing. It’s a very small, reactional difference, but one that’s very powerful.”

Healy of blu says, “When consumers use a blu e-cig, people immediately know that it is different and want to know more about the product rather than immediately condemn it.”

This distinction becomes even more important to consumers who live in the growing number of areas that have banned smoking from restaurants, bars, parks, workplaces and more.

“As more towns in our trading area enact legislation, we hear that products that do not look like a cigarette are increasingly popular,” Flint says. “This allows the adult consumer to definitely demonstrate they are not smoking.”

But it’s no longer just combustible cigarettes that are subject to a legal stigma: Many lawmakers have successfully banned e-cigs in spaces where smoking has been prohibited, based on the argument that it’s too difficult to differentiate between vaping and smoking.

“Because e-cigarettes are designed to look like cigarettes, they pose a problem to business owners and threaten effective enforcement of the Smoke-Free Air Act,” said New York City Council Member James Gennaro, Speaker Christine Quinn and Health Chair Maria del Carmen Arroyo in a December statement that supports adding e-cigarettes to the city’s Smoke-Free Air Act.

Despite strong opposition from multiple bar and restaurant representatives who testified that, cigarette-looking or not, they had no problem distinguishing e-cigarettes from combustible products, the New York City Council voted 43-8 in approval of the e-cig ban. Not long after, Chicago and Los Angeles followed suit, with other cities and states now considering similar measures.

Not surprisingly, few e-cig manufacturers agree with such actions—pointing out that if confusion were really the issue, only cigarette-looking products should have been banned. But some say that “confusion” gives regulators a rationale behind their e-cig restrictions.

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