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Vaping Vendor: “Hookah Who?”

Another chapter has opened in the duel between makers of electronic cigarettes and actual tobacco products, the ones with real tobacco in them. E-cig maker Trident Group in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, has filed suit against three sellers of combustible tobacco products, for infringement of trademark rights it holds on the word "Halo".

This comes close on the heels of a court case in Toulouse, France, in which a tobacconist has sued a vape shop for violation of France's state-imposed monopoly on sale of tobacco products. The French case has been initially decided in favor of the tobacconist in lower courts, but will of course be appealed. The New Jersey case is new, and has received no initial decision.

Trident, which calls its products "Halo Cigs" and has been using the website locator "halocigs.com" since 2009, has filed suit against the interrelated hookah companies, LA Trendz, The Hookah (which uses the domain "halohookah.com"), and Global Hookah Distributors, for trade, for using the "halo" term. Interestingly, the charges also include the claim that use of the term by a tobacco vendor "casts a negative connotation" on Trident e-cigarettes, apparently reflecting disdain for tobacco among the vaping community. The blog of Hugh Morley, which has publicized the lawsuit, sports a headline claiming that Trident is calling "old-school tobacco" an "insult".

Of course, Trident's products contain no tobacco, and unlike the Big Tobacco companies that are newcomers to e-cig marketing, Trident does not market a combustible cigarette. The case reflects a growing split among e-cig users between those sympathetic to the tobacco companies and those disdainful of them. Trident offers two lines of products, the "G6" e-cigarette, which is shaped like a traditional cigarette but comes in a variety of different colors (although white is offered), and the Triton Tank System (not offered in white), which is differently shaped, more like a "personal vaporizer" (sometimes called a "second generation e-cigarette"), the type of vaping system used by many vapers hostile to cigarette companies.

The issue is a significant one, since many e-cig users who are using the product in an attempt to quit smoking have expressed hostility to tobacco companies, which have elbowed their way into the e-cig market only recently, after decades of dishonesty about the toxicity of smoking. Before Big Tobacco started buying up e-cig companies, or bringing out their own models, the e-cig market had been thriving without selling a toxic product. Now Big Tobacco dominates the e-cig market, but primarily with the sale of "cigalikes" (sometimes called "first generation e-cigarettes"), e-cigarettes that look just like combustible ones. Cigalikes are preferred by some vapers because the resemblance to cigarettes makes them more effective for them as smoking cessation devices. But smoking ban advocates are confused by cigalikes, since they can't distinguish them as easily from cigarettes, and are obviously aesthetically revolted by the sight of something that looks like smoking. A few popular cigalikes are marketed by non-cigarette companies selling only e-cigs, but as the cigalike offerings of Big Tobacco increasingly muscle in on the market, cigalikes are increasingly seen as the tobacco companies' product.

Some market observers expect the market to further bifurcate into two groups, cigalike users on the one hand, uncritically accepting Big Tobacco's dominance, and a smaller but dedicated core of vapers who disdain the tobacco companies and prefer to use personal vaporizers like Trident's Triton Tank system. Although Triton's lawsuit is not against Big Tobacco, but against hookah marketers, it reflects a larger antipathy toward tobacco itself on the part of the vaping community, an antipathy that may bode well for the personal vaporizer industry and ill for Big Tobacco. It is not inconceivable that regulators, if they ever get around to issuing their guidelines, might even note the distinction in their regulations, to the advantage of the PV distributors.

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