Tobacco: The ‘Cig-Alike’ Conundrum

Resembling combustible cousins may be hindrance for some e-cigs

By
Melissa Vonder Haar, Tobacco Editor

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“I don’t agree with it, but the reality is some of these federal and state regulators will use any excuse to try and stop the electronic-cigarette industry,” Modi says. “The last thing you want to do is convey the message of re-socializing smoking.”

Form vs. Function

Because of ongoing regulatory attacks, many consumers prefer clear-cut vaping products. But ultimately, how important is appearance if the performance isn’t acceptable? “While design is important to our adult consumers, product attributes such as battery life and pack equivalents have been particularly important to their purchasing decisions,” Flint says.

Modi believes most traditional electronic cigarettes on the market function the same, regardless of their outward appearance. But Martin counters that not strictly mirroring the size and weight of tobacco cigarettes allows companies such as Logic to make subtle, yet important, improvements to the technology.

“It’s not just the styling of it, but the physics of having a product that’s smaller in size,” he says, explaining that cigarette-sized electronic cigarettes are not large enough to accommodate an adequately sized lithium battery to ensure longer puff counts.

An improvement in quality has also played a role in the recent increase in personal- vaporizer sales. However, Bengoa of CB Distributors doesn’t necessarily see this shift as a movement away from “cig-alike” products but as part of an organic evolution resulting from more consumers entering and becoming familiar with the category.

As such, CB Distributors continues to offer its cigarette-like 21st Century Smoke but also has introduced the Vapin vaporizer. Bengoa sees a market for both products.

“This is a continuously evolving business; now the trend is changing again,” he says. “Consumers realize the vaping experience is much closer to a traditional cigarette, not in appearance but in the actual experience.”

Modi agrees: “Maybe consumers aren’t looking for the same experience; they’re just looking for the same behavior. Maybe different forms are more compelling, which is why you’re seeing some of the [vaporizer] units perform much better.”

But what does this latest evolution mean for the once-dominant “cig-alike”? Denk of Swisher still believes the majority of electronic-cigarette consumers would prefer a format combining the quality of tanks with a familiar appearance. “Our goal with Swisher e-cigarettes is to provide the experience they are looking for without having to sacrifice on look and feel,” he says.

Others say the “cig-alike” is dead, or at least dying. “Consumers are indicating that merely being ‘cig-alike’ is not enough,” says Martin. “People have gravitated toward the puff count and amount of vapor; it’s very difficult to make that work with a smaller, cigarette-sized frame. With increasing regulations and an interest in demonstrating that they are not smoking, non-cigarette-styled products are gaining popularity.”

With NJOY a force in the marketplace and power player Altria backing not one but two cigarette-looking e-cigarettes, it may be a little premature to place “cig-alikes” on the endangered-species list. The current numbers may suggest consumers are shifting toward non-cigarette options; however, consumer preferences on appearance already have shifted more than once in the short history of the segment.

Perhaps, in this constantly evolving marketplace, retailers and manufacturers need to keep a close eye on what consumers prefer, from taste to looks. “More than anything, the winners in this industry will be those who understand the consumer,” Healy says, “both how they use the product today and in the long term.”

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