Posted at: 08/03/2013 11:16 AM
By: Mike Anderson, KOB Eyewitness News 4
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Companies vying for a stake in the fast-growing electronic cigarette business are reviving the decades-old marketing tactics the tobacco industry used to hook generations of Americans on regular smokes.
They're using cab-top and bus stop displays, sponsoring race cars and events, and encouraging smokers to "rise from the ashes" and take back their freedom in slick TV commercials featuring celebrities like TV personality Jenny McCarthy.
The Food and Drug Administration plans to set marketing and product regulations for electronic cigarettes in the near future. But for now, almost anything goes.
"Right now it's the wild, wild west," Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices made of plastic or metal that heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapor that users inhale.
Users get their nicotine without the thousands of chemicals, tar or odor of regular cigarettes.
And they get to hold something shaped like a cigarette, while puffing and exhaling something that looks like smoke.
So far, there's not much scientific evidence showing e-cigarettes help smokers quit or smoke less, and it's unclear how safe they are.
But the marketing tactics are raising worries that the devices' makers could tempt young people to take up something that could prove addictive.
The industry started by selling e-cigarettes on the Internet and at shopping-mall kiosks.
It has rocketed from thousands of users in 2006 to several million worldwide who have more than 200 brands to choose from.
Some e-cigarettes are stocked in prime selling space at the front of convenience-store and gas-station counters - real estate forbidden to the devices' old-fashioned cousins.
Analysts estimate sales of e-cigarettes could reach $2 billion by the end of the year.
Some say the use of e-cigarettes could pass that of traditional cigarettes in the next decade.
Tobacco company executives have even noted that e-cigarettes are already eating into traditional cigarette sales.
The debate over marketing tactics is intensifying as the nation's largest tobacco companies roll out their own e-cigarettes in a push to diversify beyond their traditional business.
People are smoking fewer cigarettes in the face of tax hikes, smoking bans, health concerns and social stigma, though higher prices have helped protect cigarette revenue.
Companies like NJOY and Blu Ecigs are advertising on TV, forbidden for cigarettes for more than 40 years.
LOGIC has placed mobile billboards on taxis in New York City.
Swisher International Inc., maker of Swisher Sweets cigars, is sponsoring race cars promoting its e-Swisher electronic cigarettes and cigars and has a two-year deal to become the official e-cigarette of the World Series of Poker.
Blu, which was acquired by No. 3 U.S. tobacco company Lorillard Inc. last year, also has sponsored an Indy car and the 2013 Bonnaroo music festival, and its website features a cartoon character nicknamed "Mr. Cool" boasting the benefits of its e-cigarette - evoking the days of Joe Camel.
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