Thursday, July 17, 2014

VUSE fires up electronic cigarette event marketing

I’ve been waiting for years to see a decent electronic cigarette marketing display. Well, I finally saw one on a recent trip to the Summerfest music festival in Milwaukee.

The VUSE e-cig display from RJR Reynolds and BFG Marketing included a high tech trailer and displays, modern design and signage, and also had a prime waterfront location on the festival grounds.

About a dozen workers were on hand at the display to present the features and benefits of the VUSE products. Some of those highlights included a quick connect easy pop-off filter, light weight design and authentic taste (more on this later). The staffer who helped me was engaged, knowledgeable and upbeat.

The display’s crowds were somewhat limited, but that was partially intentional. To their credit, VUSE staff security limited access to those over age 21 with verified identification and to current e-cig or tobacco consumers (they had to take your word for that).

This somewhat conflicting strategy of actually limiting e-cig marketing accessibility is smart public relations for VUSE. E-cig opponents are comparing current marketing to that of traditional tobacco companies in the past where aggressive product giveaways were used to attract new smokers.

In fact, my wife was denied access to the display when she told the VUSE security staff that she was “only an occasional cigarette smoker.” So, clearly VUSE was not promoting their products to anyone other than tobacco or e-cig consumers. Other e-cig brands should take notice of this tactic as a self-regulatory best practice.

Having worked at a number of major consumer events and trade shows in my career, I was expecting to see a display of this kind at some point. While there may be others out there already, the VUSE e-cig display was the first I have seen, and I was impressed.

Of course, with VUSE being the e-cig brand of tobacco giant RJR Reynolds, you would expect a top level presentation.  The display was very open and inviting with plenty of tables, cabinets and a trailer showing various e-cig products.

I expect to see more of these marketing displays from VUSE and other bigger e-cig brands like Lorillard’s Blu, Altria’s recent acquisition of Green Smoke, or NJOY.

Other possible events besides music festivals and concerts could include state and county fairs, auto or motorcycle races or other sporting events. While some might not want to be associated with electronic cigarette marketing, this VUSE Summerfest example shows some venues are more open-minded to e-cigs than tobacco.

I have seen smaller e-cig brands with displays at some events. It’s kind of like the difference between the big beer brands like MillerCoors or Anheuser-Busch and micro brands like Sam Adams, Red Hook or New Belgium. Nothing against the smaller brands out there, but there is a difference between a couple tables under a tent and a major display like VUSE.

From an overall marketing perspective, the main goal of these kinds of displays is to generate precious “leads” or potential customer contacts and gather research, while also creating awareness or “buzz.”

Getting back to the products themselves, VUSE e-cigs have a lot to offer.  The original flavor sample tasted fresh and realistic. You would expect no less from a company like RJR.

The biggest and best innovation in the VUSE e-cigs is the QuickConnect easy interface between the battery and cartridge. Having a snap-on and off instead of a screw-on and off thread system seems like an easier function.

Other features include powerful and consistent performance, a unique vapor light and logo, and effective and recognizable package. VUSE also offers a recycling program, which is smart marketing in this “sustainable” marketplace.

The complimentary VUSE start kit that I received sells for about $10 in retail outlets and includes a battery, USB charger and two cartridges in either original or menthol flavor.

While I was obviously impressed with the VUSE display at Summerfest in Milwaukee, it will be interesting to see where other e-cig brands take event marketing in the future.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

FDA regulation can benefit electronic cigarette growth

Hard as it is to imagine or say, it’s possible that federal government regulation could actually be a good thing for electronic cigarettes.

Let me try to explain this before e-cig supporters and other libertarians fly off the handle. Hyper-regulation at all levels of government, especially federal, should make e-cig supporters suspicious of all too common government overreaction. However, if electronic cigarettes are as beneficial as many believe, then they should tolerate and work with most of the recently proposed Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulations and oversight.

More specifically, reporting of electronic cigarette ingredients and other proposed reviews should help to clarify to the public many of the misconceptions due to the misinformation out there. As e-cig supporters like myself have maintained for years, the ingredients in e-cigs are pretty well known and documented. These include varying degrees of nicotine, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, polyethylene glycol 400 and flavorings.  

If and when the FDA can show any major health issues or real harm from those ingredients, then e-cigs can be reasonably regulated.

The possible negative repercussions are significant if e-cig regulation goes overboard, which is always a possibility with big government. For example, the regulation of e-cigs should be considered differently than traditional cigarettes when it comes to their impact in public places like bars and restaurants. With electronic cigarettes’ big advantage of avoiding second-hand smoke and odor, it’s been my experience that most people don’t mind their use in public places.  

An example of federal regulators going overboard were recent inflammatory comments by CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden, who told the Los Angeles Times that e-cigs are a tobacco product and that he basically hates them. At least, the paper promptly corrected him noting that e-cigs don’t burn tobacco. Most of his opposition to e-cigs is based on fear-mongering and insinuations rather than facts.   

We need to closely differentiate key facts and use discretion with electronic cigarette regulation when comparing them to traditional cigarette public use. Until it’s proven that there is negative health impact, electronic cigarettes should be permitted in public places if the property owner or business approves. Some of the biggest concerns with traditional cigarettes in public are smoke and odor, which are not really present with electronic cigarette vapor. 

From a marketing standpoint, most e-cig manufactures and marketers are already complying with the FDA recommendations as they aren’t really marketing to kids under age 21, avoid making health benefit claims and complimentary giveaways in public are pretty minimal. 

Electroniccigarette opponents use false fears hyping future and potential problems rather than citing proven facts or the many success stories of those who have used e-cigs to quit or cut down on tobacco. It seems that the worst thing regulators can say about e-cigs is that they might attract youth or possibly harm them. Yet, many of the same regulators are letting products like high caffeine energy drinks, soda, coffee and other products flagrantly market to young people. 

It’s possible that any level of regulation could harm smaller brands or manufacturers, but that becomes part of the process of allowing more consumers to benefit from electronic cigarettes. 

Some will likely argue that FDA regulations benefit the big tobacco companies with more money and resources who are now more aggressively getting into the e-cig market. Hopefully, they have learned lessons from past tobacco advertising mistakes and can more positively self-regulate electronic cigarette marketing in the future. 

The electronic cigarette industry needs to try its best to embrace the body of the proposed FDA regulations, but also aggressively fight overzealous and emotional oversight from big government and big health care. 

While it sure seems like an unlikely long shot, there is a chance that the benefits of e-cigs helping consumers avoid tobacco can outweigh the scare tactics when it comes to federal and other government regulation. 

We can hope for the best, can’t we?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Electronic cigarettes ignite passion and prejudice at Wisconsin legislative hearing

At a time when left-leaning big city governments like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are including e-cigarettes in their smoking bans, Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman and others were hoping to go in a more progressive and free-market direction.

Grothman and a few others show they get it on electronic cigarettes by supporting a bill to exempt them from the statewide tobacco smoking ban in public places. Unfortunately, a minority of nanny-state big government alarmists likely provided just enough doubt or cover for those who don’t get it.

E Cig Werks attended and testified at the March 5 hearing at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis. It was also a convenient trip down memory lane for me as I worked in the Capital back in the mid-1980s, a time when people actually smoked real cigarettes in their offices.

The hearing was a demonstration in the old saying that “there are two things you should never see being made – laws and sausages.”

Several times during the hearing, Grothman explained how his proposal would simply clarify that e-cigs are not part of the smoking ban for businesses like restaurants and taverns, and that businesses could voluntarily ban e-cigs if they so chose.

The first speaker was Vicki McKenna, a conservative Wisconsin radio talk show host and staunch e-cigarette evangelist. McKenna cited her personal experience in using e-cigs to kick a 23-year smoking habit. A strong free-market advocate as you might expect from a conservative, McKenna concluded her remarks saying “electronic cigarettes have the potential to be a public health miracle.”

KristinNoll-Marsh is a fellow blogger who has been a positive e-cigarette voice in Wisconsin for several years. She represents the Consumer Advocates forSmoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) and lauded Wisconsin for “doing it right” by proactively seeks to clarify that e-cigs are not subject to the statewide tobacco smoking ban and “not doing knee-jerk legislation based what e-cigs look like.”

Two speakers from the public health lobby were Murray Katcher and Dr. Michael Fiore, both of whom cited more fear of electronic cigarettes’ potential negative health impact than any proven harm or risk. Fiore actually acknowledged that e-cigs are helping smokers quit tobacco and that they have far fewer toxic chemicals. His main point was that e-cigs are at a similar stage at this time as tobacco cigarettes were in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Katcher also strongly advocated the negative health impact potential of e-cigs, especially for children through second-hand smoke. However, Grothman’s bill is essentially focused on Wisconsin taverns and restaurants, so hopefully that would affect many children. Although, this is Wisconsin.

While I hadn’t originally planned to testify at the hearing, the testimony and atmosphere got me worked up enough to speak. I scrawled a few notes and focused on my blogging experience and the key messages that e-cigs help consumers avoid tobacco, odor and second-hand smoke while reducing nicotine. When Grothman asked me how much I thought e-cigs reduced harmful toxins, I just pointed to the previous testimony from the health experts.

Following another compelling personal story about how e-cigs helped kick a 30-year smoking habit from a Sheboygan, Wis., resident, and a more technical and detailed presentation on the quality of e-cigs from Don Muehlbauer of Securience,LLC, in Wauwatosa, Wis., things went a stranger direction.

An apparent Capitol staffer told a heart-wrenching story about his mother dying after cancer after years of tobacco smoking and referred to e-cigarettes as “a baby death product.” While anyone would empathize with those sentiments and emotion, they really weren’t relevant to the subject of the bill, which was letting private businesses decide if they want to permit the use of e-cigarettes.

Greg Conley of the Heartland Institute then noted a variety of studies supporting the argument that e-cigs have far less toxins than traditional cigarettes, but Wisconsin Senator Fred Risser fixated like a laser on the notion that e-cigs, to which he several times referred to as “emails,” would only attract young people and new users. Conley countered that most e-cig marketing is focused on cigarette smokers and not toward young people.

As the Wisconsin legislative session winds down, it seems unlikely they will even vote on the e-cig bill, much less pass it on to Gov. Scott Walker for a signature. However, at least the public hearings give both sides of the e-cig issue a chance to be heard, and hopefully reason and logic will prevail over fear-mongering and emotion.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Electronic cigarette supporters can use New York City ban debate to get the word out

It was disappointing, but not surprising for electronic cigarette supporters, that the New York city council recently voted to ban e-cig use in public places.

As much as New York City and its people can be very blunt at times, their city government is out of touch with most of its people and reality on the e-cig ban. Electronic cigarette supporters in NYC fought the good fight against the ban, especially on social media channels. However, the odds were against them with a fight against an elite big government body like the New York city council and an accomplice media.

So rather than revisiting a battle already apparently lost, below some of the main arguments against e-cigs by New York politicians followed by some positive answers, messages and strategies to help defend against further and future bans and attacks.

First of all, the overall message should be that electronic cigarettes are providing a choice to help consumers avoid tobacco, odor and second-hand smoke while reducing nicotine levels. They should be fairly and reasonably regulated like other similar consumer products.  

The existence and appearance of electronic cigarettes sends a message that supports and condones tobacco smoking: The facts and common sense show about 20 percent of the population still smokes tobacco after nearly half a century and billions of tax dollars spent demonizing cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes clearly give those smokers the chance and a choice to avoid tobacco, reduce nicotine and quit smoking. It’s possible that some non-smokers will choose e-cigs, but this argument is nothing more than an emotional “smoke screen.”

Electronic cigarettes are not healthy: Most e-cig makers and supporters don’t hide the fact that nicotine vapor has some negative health effects. However, e-cigs can help avoid thousands of toxins and chemicals burned in traditional tobacco cigarettes. According to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, e-cigs contain five basic ingredients, all of them approved by the FDA/EDP for human consumption and already in U.S. food supplies. At least 35 e-cig studies can be cited showing there are not any harmful levels to humans.

There is not enough research or regulation of electronic cigarettes: As noted above, there are studies and research on both sides when it comes to the health impact of e-cigs. However, until there is definitive evidence one way or the other, consumers and the free markets should be allowed to decide. Electronic cigarettes should really be regulated like other somewhat similar consumer products like energy drinks, coffee, or alcohol. For example, nicotine can be considered as both a stimulant and relaxant, and the federal Centers for Disease Control has said e-cigs are “less harmful” than smoking. Finally, research can often be contradictory like recent studies claiming that multivitamins provide no health benefits.

Second-hand smoke, sorry vapor, from electronic cigarettes is harmful: So far, there is really no evidence that second-hand e-cig vapor is harmful. Until credible studies or research prove otherwise, the lack of second-hand “smoke” is actually a major advantage of electronic cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes appeal to youth as a gateway to tobacco smoking: Sadly, banning e-cigs more likely heightens their appeal to youth as a means of rebelling making them seem more “cool.” It’s fine to support banning the sales and use of e-cigs to minors, but it make no sense to ban their overall use in public. At the same time, we don’t see any governments rushing to ban high caffeine energy drinks, which are certainly comparable to electronic cigarettes.

Odor, or lack of it, from electronic cigarettes: The minimal or almost non-existent odor from e-cigs is one of their biggest benefits. One of the biggest complaints from non-smokers and smokers about traditional cigarettes is virtually eliminated with e-cigs. 

Finally, I think one of the best arguments in favor of electronic cigarettes and vaping is having opponents see them up close and personal. I’ve found that some of the strongest supporters of cigarette smoking bans have no problem with e-cigs when they actually see how they work and product little or any odor and second-hand smoke.