Big Tobacco's Attempt to Cash In on the Custom Vaping Craze is a Drag

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November 17, 2014 // 03:05 PM EST

Blu electronic cigarettes, which was recently sold by one tobacco giant to another tobacco giant, just released Blu Plus+™, a rechargeable, refillable cigalike. It’s the first Big Tobacco ecig that isn’t disposable, and it looks like a clear attempt to capture some of the market share gained by smaller, independent vaping companies that offer customizable devices that give users more freedom of choice. Problem is, Big Tobacco’s version is a closed platform that offers no customization whatsoever—Blu Plus+ will work only with other Blu products.

The Blu Plus+'s nic-juice tank. Image: Author

That should come as no surprise, considering that big tobacco is in a bit of a rough spot. It wants to compete for a share of the vaping market, which has made it clear that it specifically prefers refillable mods that can be filled with all sorts of different flavors of nic-juice—even flavors mixed at home. It also wants to completely destroy that market by asking the Food and Drug Administration to enforce strict regulations in order to force vapers to smoke its own cigalikes (disposable e-cigarettes that look like regular cigarettes and are usually sold at gas stations).

Consider, for a moment, that earlier this fall, RJ Reynolds submitted a 119-page document asking the Food and Drug Administration to ban "open system" vaporizers (the ones that most vapers prefer), while simultaneously trying enter the market itself.

That's how you end up with the hybrid Blu Plus(Plus!), a cigalike that is refillable (in the sense that you can buy additional closed tanks for it) and rechargeable, but not customizable in the slightest.

I got one of these mailed to me the other day, and, sure, it's a departure from regular ol' Blu cigalikes, which you buy for a couple bucks at a gas station, use until either the battery is dead or it's out of puffs, then throw away. Blu ++, on the other hand, lets you use the same cigalike (I hesitate to call it a mod, because it's not modifiable, at all) to vape nic juice specifically made by Blu, and nic juice made by Blu only. These tanks are quite obviously not interchangeable with other vape mods or other vape juice tanks. In fact the tanks are built into a part of the cigalike that you have to screw into the device.

This is what it looks like when you vape a Blu Plus+. Image: Author

I'm personally not much of a vaper, but the product does seem better than standard Blu cigalikes, which are notoriously hard to pull from because the battery in it sucks. It still tastes pretty blah, though.

And, well, that's the problem. Besides being a better alternative for your lungs than actually smoking, vaping has become huge specifically because it has put the power of designing and creating nic juice and mods in the hands of small companies and hobbyists who care very much about the quality of their products and the culture they've helped create. Big tobacco, on the other hand, has tried to shove cigalikes down that community's throat by actively trying to make the barrier to entry so high that small companies can't compete.

The Blue +Plus is just the next step here: It's an imitator that might appeal to the casual e-cig smoker and yes, an upgrade over the original—but make no mistake, the vape community doesn't want or need this. This is a cigalike pretending to be a mod, nothing more. Any truly open platform mod or nic juice from big tobacco would be anexplicit acknowledgement that it has truly lost the market to small vape companies.

There’s no indication that RJ Reynolds, or Lorillard, or Imperial Tobacco Group are going to do that—instead, they’ll keep making pale imitations, which aren’t going to win them any fans. At this point, lobbying and the fear mongering that goes with it are still its best weapons.


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