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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However, consumers no longer have to choose between larger models and products that look just like a tobacco cigarette. Offerings such as Logic, blu and Reynold’s Vuse give consumers a third option: an electronic cigarette with a weight and size smokers are used to, but a design that clearly distinguishes it from a combustible product.

Or, as Winston-Salem’s R.J. Reynolds Vapor Corp. spokesperson Richard Smith puts it, “as different as possible yet as familiar as necessary.”

Familiarly Different

Just as NJOY and Swisher decided to mirror the look and feel of tobacco cigarettes, early adopters of this “non-cig-alike” option worked to design something different.

“It was a conscious choice to offer a product that clearly was not mistaken for a traditional cigarette when in use,” says blu’s Healy. “This is intended to invoke curiosity rather than to suggest that it is a combustible cigarette.”

Many of these manufacturers believe a different kind of design also reflects the true nature of these products. “These are not the same cigarettes that have been around for 70 years,” says Martin. “At the core, these are technology products.”

This concept was central to Reynold’s Vuse design. From the outset, says Smith, the company sought a futuristic appearance. “Form and aesthetics are inherently relevant for high-tech consumer products, and especially with tobacco products, given the hands-on, close interaction with the product,” he says. “We designed the look of Vuse to reflect the forward-thinking nature of the product.”

Though this makes sense, it’s important to note that when blu and Logic introduced their products in 2009 and 2010, the market was filled with cigarette-looking products, which were performing well compared to earlier “non-cig-alike” models.

 However, retailers such as Anne Flint of Cumberland Farms aren’t sure that it was the familiar appearance that drove the success of these products, or that they were the only lightweight and disposable options for a couple of years.

“At the beginning, adult consumers did not have a choice,” says Flint, senior tobacco category manager for the Framingham, Mass.-based retailer. “Now, with the advent of Logic and blu, consumers have that choice and are increasingly choosing those items.”

The latest Nielsen numbers seem to demonstrate a preference towards noncigarette-looking options: blu and Logic were the top performers in c-store dollar and unit sales as of Feb. 15, 2014, with blu leading the pack with a 43.9% dollar share and a 33.8% unit share.

While blu has reigned supreme in the years since its acquisition by Lorillard, the independently run Logic recently knocked the once top-seated NJOY down to the No. 3 slot, though the two remain very close. Logic has outsold NJOY in terms of unit share since October (with a 21.8% February share) and reclaimed the No. 2 spot in dollar share (20.2% in February) after going back and forth with NJOY since December 2013.

While cost, battery life and overall quality likely play a role in this shift, Martin says, “I don’t think it should be lost on anyone that (at least) two-thirds of today’s e-cig sales are ‘non-cig-alike’ products.”

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