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E-Cig Market Wars: the People just might win!

The stakes are heating up. The stage is set for a huge marketing battle. Cigarette companies ("Big Tobacco") with cavernous pockets are racing full throttle to dominate the market for electronic cigarettes, even as they continue to sell lethal ones.

Lorillard, which muscled its way into the market first by buying Blu 2 years ago, is in the lead, and more recently bought UK company Skycig. Altria (aka Marlboro-maker Phillip Morris) has brought out its own line, Mark Ten, through a subsidiary called Nu-Mark, apparently created for the purpose. More recently, Nu-Mark has purchased Green Smoke, which continues to appear online under the same name, with no mention of its ties to lethal products. Camel-maker RJ Reynolds is bringing out Vuse, while British American Tobacco is bringing out Vype. A few months ago, Galoise-producer Imperial Tobacco bought e-cig inventor Hon Lik's intellectual property rights from the Chinese firm Dragonite, but has not yet announced how it plans to shape or brand its entry into the market.

A few "clean-hands" companies, firms that only sell e-cigs and have never made the toxic kind, are also positioned toward the head of the pack. (These are also sometimes called "dedicated e-cigarette companies".) Several of these firms made news recently by merging, and thus acquiring a more competitive position vis-a-vis Big Tobacco. Victory E-cigs first bought the British firm Vapestick, and then merged with FIN Branding, emerging with a much better market stance. NJOY continues to make news with highly visible advertising that is savvy, yet controversial. (There are several more key players in this group, but only those that have made news recently are mentioned here, to avoid the appearance of favoring specific brands.)

Scrambling around the feet of these dinosaurs are a host of small companies that make not only e-cigarettes that look like the deadly smokes, but also personal vaporizers that look very different. These devices are growing in popularity among more committed vapers, who don't particularly care to look like they are smoking a cancer stick. Many of these are devoted hobbyists who modify their vaporizers ("modding"), and regulate their own flavors and nicotine levels. 

On the regulatory front, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has submitted to the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) drafts of proposed regulations, the undisclosed contents of which are arousing a great deal of anxious speculation. Some fear that steep requirements will obliterate the small companies, outlaw modding, and strangle innovation, effectively handing the industry to Big Tobacco. Some of the most informed scientific voices are urging a very delicate approach to regulation, with finely tuned requirements that will drive more smokers away from their deadly habit, and toward vaping. We don't yet know what the OMB is looking at.

Several major voices in the press are beginning to cover the issue more even-handedly, giving increased visibility to the informed voices advocating sane harm-reduction, even as they continue to juxtapose those voices against extreme anti-vaping voices with their sloppy logic and distorted reporting of research results.

What can individual vapers do to shape the outcome of the impending struggle? Let's look at some possibilities:

Don't buy Mark Ten, Vuse, Vype, Green Smokes, Blu, or Skycig.

Don't let your friends buy them. Tell them about e-cigs from clean-hands firms.

Lobby your convenience store to give preferred space to clean-hands products in their display cases. Urge them to phase out the Big Tobacco products altogether in favor of brands from dedicated e-cig companies. Market watchers agree that a large part of Big Tobacco's advantage comes from their entrenched distribution networks. Lobby your local stores to change that. Lobby CVS, which recently announced plans to stop selling tobacco, to introduce e-cigs to their shelves as part of that laudable shift (and of course to introduce only clean-hands e-cigs).

Comment on news stories you read on the subject. Submit well-informed, well-written comments from a pro-vaping, harm-reduction point of view. Proofread and use a spellchecker and grammar checker. Make the vaping community look good. Continue to post on e-cig forums as well – preaching to the choir is also good, but posting on articles in the mainstream press will get wider visibility for pro-vaping points of view outside the vaping commmunity.

In your online comments, and in communications with legislators, let them know that Big Tobacco does not represent you as a vaper, and hasn't earned the right to speak for the vaping community.

If you happen to have large amounts of extra cash lying around, invest it in the dedicated e-cig company of your choice.

Take your mod or PV to parties and show them to people. Let the public know that there are possibilities beyond cigalikes, and that they're cool now! 

If there's a vaping lounge in your town, patronize it, and tell your friends about it. If there isn't one, try to get one started. If the regulators come out with rules that sell the store to Big Tobacco, raise heck! The people can win this one.