THE electronic cigarette, touted as a way to cut smoking, is facing a serious contender that even smokers find sexy.
Vapour tanks are typically hunkier and allow smokers and would-be quitters to customise nicotine levels, as well as to puff thousands of blissful flavours. A cult following is likely to grow as "vaping" becomes more fashionable and more stores carry the battery-powered metal tubes in a wide range of colours.
As a result, e-cigarette sales are slimmer this year, prompting manufacturers to invest in the next generation of inhalant products ... as well as smokers.
Tank makers are introducing new models at a rapid clip in the fledgling market, ramping up research into products that may even evolve into puff pipes for medicine or marijuana.
E-cigarettes are typically used to smoke nicotine-laced liquids. When users puff, the nicotine is heated and released as a vapour containing no tar.
Tanks give smokers "something that more closely resembles a combustible cigarette because of the bigger plume of vapour," said John Wiesehan Jr, CE of Mistic, one of the largest private "e-cig" makers, which has added a tank device to its product line-up.
After surging in the past two years, e-cig sales declined 12.9% in the four weeks ended July 5 from the prior period because of lower prices and as smokers migrated to tanks, Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog said. She estimated tanks and e-cigarettes had a combined market of about $2.5bn. Retailers are starting to discontinue or take shelf space away from e-cigs.
"There is clearly more competition than there used to be," said Craig Weiss, CEO of NJOY, a top US e-cig seller which has filed more than 80 patent applications in recent years. That, he said, had led to increased innovation.
None of the current technologies "are the perfect delivery system but people that want a cheaper and more socially acceptable way of smoking will try what’s out there until something sticks," Morningstar analyst Philip Gorham said.
"I am confident that e-cigs have a future and will likely get bigger. What I don’t know is which technology will win out."