vendredi 7 février 2014

CVS Stops Selling Tobacco: Are e-Cigarettes The Future?

Here we are! CVS has decided to stop selling tobacco in its pharmacies as of October. Will other big players follow their steps? What ever the reason supporting the decision, it will mean a big chunk of revenue gone up in smoke. So the question becomes: how do we make up for it? The industry might well find the answer in a new way of lighting up a cigarette known as "vaping".

Vaping has become a huge phenomenon in Europe where 23 million people have already embraced this new habit. The U.S. is following the path with probably 5 to 8 million "vapers" and with numbers doubling every year. Sales are reported to have reached $700 million last July and approached $2 billion in 2013. This trend, which seems to have passed the simple status of a fad, has pushed the third-largest U.S. tobacco manufacturer Lorillard to buy a prominent manufacturer of electronic cigarettes for $135 million, Blu Ecigs, in 2012. As per Lorillard, other major international actors of the tobacco industry might see in the e-cigarette a new blue ocean, a way for them to compensate for a gloomy cigarette market.

Although the debate is sill opened among experts to figure out whether e-cigs are safe, or at least safer than traditional cigarettes, regulators have taken different views. For instance in Europe, where lobbies were strong to make it considered as a tobacco substitute for tobacco cessation, regulators have decided that the electronic cigarette was safe enough to be sold in specialized shops and online stores instead of pharmacies. In the U.S., many states have passed laws prohibiting the sale of e-cigs to minors less than 18-years old and by-laws like in New York City prohibit vaping in public places. These laws are favorably supported by manufacturers such as Blu Ecigs, making a point to be perceived as socially responsible enterprises.

It is needless to say that regulators will have a hard time to go against this phenomenon that is now affecting millions of citizens around the world. But what regulators and health authorities might be interested in is to find out how vaping affects their health. The issue is then "how do we measure how much nicotine and other substances an individual absorbs?" Although it was quite easy to have an idea of one's own cigarette consumption per day, vaping doesn't provide this possibility. Except for knowing how many times the e-cig is refilled, there is no clear reference to how much is consumed like it is for regular cigarettes.

This lack of feedback on vape consumption opens new opportunities to startups to innovate and surf on the wave of the Internet of Things. France is way ahead in this matter and will see the first connected electronic cigarette launched onto the market in March 2014. The French startup Smokio has presented its connected e-cig at CES in Las Vegas this year, which was a great success. The product is well thought and nicely presented. Although it is pricy and shows some weaknesses, such as its battery life, it is providing a new experience to vapers who want to know more about their vaping habits. A mobile application gives a precise feedback on how much nicotine has been inhaled, when and where the e-cig was used, etc.

On the footsteps of  Smokio, another French startup, MyVaps, is launching a universal solution that connects any electronic cigarette to a smartphone, meaning that vapers will not have to change their e-cig to monitor their vaping habits. MyVaps will not require to be charged and will operate continuously without draining the battery. It will be a simple and easy way to control one's vaping and share vaping experiences with the community.

It seems that we stand at the premises of a new era where the ancient smoking tradition and technology will meet for the better of smokers and non-smokers alike.