Although electronic cigarettes first emerged back in the 1960s the electronic cigarette of today was created at the turn of the century. This is a market which was seen as "niche" until about four years ago when the popularity of electronic cigarettes began to grow. During this relatively short period of time the market has grown into a multibillion dollar sales machine with US sales alone expected to top $1 billion in 2013 with a worldwide market estimated at around $3.5 billion.
As a consequence, electronic cigarettes have caught the eye of regulators around the world and with users now numbered in their millions it is certainly a hot topic.
The more traditional electronic cigarette is a device which was manufactured to fulfil nicotine cravings which are predominantly associated with tobacco cigarettes. The idea behind an electronic cigarette is that the 4000+ toxins associated with the modern day tobacco cigarette have been eliminated leaving a liquid nicotine ingredient which is vaporised when the device is in use. This means the nicotine is effectively inhaled as flavoured water thereby creating no smoke and no secondary smoking issues.
At this moment in time the electronic cigarette does not come under any tobacco laws around the world although the French court recently ruled they should be regulated under existing tobacco laws. This has caused some confusion and with the European Parliament and Food and Drug Administration in the US also expected to deliver their own regulatory guidelines it should be a very interesting few months for the industry.
Anyone who has experienced or even seen an electronic cigarette will be aware that the more popular types are manufactured in such a way as to mimic the look, feel and experience of smoking tobacco cigarettes without the 4000+ toxins. The device consists of four main parts which are the nicotine vapour chamber, heating element, battery and LED light which indicates that the devices in use. When you consider that these elements are very neatly and compactly contained within a relatively small product this is a very impressive feat in itself.
There are a number of variations on the standard electronic cigarette, some of them do not have the look and feel of a traditional cigarette, some of them are larger and a significant number have accessible refill chambers. However, by far and away the most popular electronic cigarettes of today are the ones which look and feel like a tobacco cigarette, giving a nicotine hit without the additional ingredients.
Under the surface of these relatively small devices there are a number of elements which react very quickly as soon as the user begins to inhale. The inhaling by the user is the trigger which flicks on the battery which is used to power the heating element. The heating element instantly vaporises the liquid nicotine in the vapour chamber allowing this to be effectively inhaled as flavoured water. As soon as the user stops inhaling, the battery switches off, the heating element cools, the LED light is extinguished and the nicotine returns to its natural liquid form.
While the LED light at the end of the cigarette may seem incidental it is proving vital to electronic cigarette users because not only does it show when they are in use but also indicates they are electronic cigarettes as opposed to tobacco cigarettes. This helps to avoid potential friction between tobacco cigarette smokers, many of whom are impacted by local smoking bans, and their electronic cigarette counterparts.
There are a number of benefits of electronic cigarettes which include the fact that the 4000+ toxins associated with your traditional tobacco cigarette are non-existent, instead all you inhale is nicotine vapour. When the user exhales, this is in the form of flavoured water which evaporates upon contact with the atmosphere thereby eliminating secondary smoking issues, which were perhaps the main reason for the worldwide smoking ban in public places.
For many people the potential cost savings compared to their tobacco cigarette counterparts are also another major reason for switching to electronic cigarettes, something which millions of former tobacco cigarette users have done around the world. While legally and from a marketing point of view, electronic cigarettes cannot at this moment in time be promoted as "quit smoking tools" there is no doubt that many people have, and continue to, use them in this manner.
Even the most ardent critics of electronic cigarettes acknowledge they are "more healthy" than their tobacco cigarette counterparts with some health officials suggesting that they are 99% healthier. While there have been medical trials to date it seems inevitable that we will see the introduction of more long-term trials very shortly which will answer many questions and put to bed an array of myths and untruths about the industry.
Electronic cigarettes have been in the news of late as regulators around the world continue to contemplate new regulations and new safeguards. There is some suspicion that the enormous tax income which tobacco cigarettes bring to the table is clouding the issue somewhat because when electronic cigarettes were seen as a "niche market" there was relatively little interest from governments, regulators and tobacco companies. Now that the industry is expected to post annual sales in excess of $3 billion for 2013, with significant growth expected in the short, medium and long term, it seems that regulators and governments around the world have woken up to the industry.
It will be interesting to see how the regulatory issue pans out and whether indeed, as many people expect, tobacco cigarette giants continue to buy-up leading brands and launch their own electronic cigarettes. While the tobacco cigarette companies have been fairly quiet in public, there is speculation there are placing pressure on governments and regulators around the world to stall impressive industry sales growth. In many ways the tobacco cigarette companies are in a win-win situation because if further regulations are introduced for electronic cigarettes, this will protect their industry to a certain extent, while if electronic cigarettes continue to gain in popularity, they will simply use their financial muscle to dominate the market in the long term.
Mark Benson is a writer currently living in the UK.
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