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It’s built of anodized aluminum and fits right in your palm. It features no physical buttons, yet is easy enough for your mother to use. A magnetic latch makes the trickiest mechanism a snap. And of course, it comes in three colors.
It’s not the latest iPod. It’s the Pax, a $250 electronic cigarette replacement from a young company called Ploom. Out in August of this year, the Pax accepts any loose leaf tobacco (or recreational herb), and within 30 seconds, transforms it into a puffable, smokeless vapor.
Sparked in 2004 by a pair of Stanford students as a graduate project, Ploom released their first e-cigarette a few years later. To this day, their modelOne has just a few thousand loyal users worldwide but Ploom has never called it more than a “beta” product. The Pax is their swing-for-the-fences product, one that Ploom hopes to distribute to almost every country in the world. You see, despite health warnings and regulation, tobacco use is growing worldwide. It’s a $600 billion market, “but in that large of a space, there are very few options in tobacco,” Ploom co-founder James Monsees points out. Pre-rolled cigarettes, chew, and loose smoking tobacco don’t begin to compare to the myriad of options offered by other large markets, from cell phones to household cleaners.
Within tobacco, the e-cigarette niche is a strange one.
To Ploom, there are two big unsatisfied groups in the tobacco community who’d be potential customers for a designer smoking experience. The first is what they call the “sometimes smoker,” that person who doesn’t usually buy cigarettes, but always bums them at bars. And the second is the “conflicted smoker,” the smoker who feels ostracized for their habit but isn’t changing it. Their approach makes sense on paper: Don’t copy the silly fake cigarettes. Make a premium electronic device–a lustable gadget–for people who want a cigarette but don’t necessarily want to be associated with cigarettes.
But here’s where things get interesting: Pax isn’t a traditional tobacco product like a cigarette; there’s no tobacco inside. It’s just an electronic device, so the current FDA mandates on tobacco advertising actually don’t apply to them. Whereas Marlboro couldn’t sponsor the NBA Finals because of current regulations, technically speaking, Pax could. It’s a massive opportunity to market where the competition can’t. Yet Ploom is passing on it, officially stating: “It is our intention to create the trustworthy brand in the tobacco space, including in the eyes of regulatory agencies like the FDA. Exploiting loopholes is not a good way to foster trust and goodwill particularly among regulatory agencies.”
But even if Ploom could advertise the Pax itself, they probably couldn’t advertise the Pax’s biggest draw anyway: that less carcinogenic compounds are produced through vaporization than combustion. Despite the company’s “extensive testing” on the chemicals outputted by their vaporizer, they’re banned from, not just advertising that information, but even disclosing any potential health benefits to consumers within their own informational materials. Regulations are such that you can’t make health claims about tobacco (other than that required Surgeon General’s warning that it’ll kill you, of course).
People know cigarettes because they’re an established industry. People know e-cigarettes because they’re a media novelty. But do people, beyond marijuana enthusiasts, maybe, know vaporizers?
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