E-cigarettes were once the stuff of late-night infomercials and dubious d-list celebrity testimonials—now, for better or for worse, they comprise a $2 billion global market. So says the marketing research firm Euromonitor International. Its recent study determined that sales of e-cigs, their refills, and related gear passed the $2 billion mark in 2011. The biggest market was the United States, which accounted for a full quarter of e-cigarette sales—according to USA Today, 5 million e-cigs were sold last year.
Now, that’s a drop in the global “nicotine delivery” market (you’ve gots to love industry jargon). Earlier this year, the World Lung Foundation estimated that the U.S. tobacco industry alone made $35 billion in profits. By 2050, however, Euromonitor estimates that a full 4% of the global smoking market will have switched over to e-cigarettes.
Major U.S. tobacco brands and pharmaceutical companies are preemptively securing their foothold. EI reports that “two leading tobacco players have entered the e-cigarette market by either buying an established e-cigarette brand (as in the case of Lorillard buying Blu for US$135mn in April 2012) or by launching their own e-cigarette brands on the market (eg Swisher’s eponymous e-cigarettes and e-cigars, also in 2012).”
In other words, expect the sight of e-smokers puffing away on glowing e-sticks to become increasingly typical.
Introduced to the U.S. in 2007 and produced by a Chinese company, the smokeless nicotine vaporizers have inched towards the mainstream. Now, more manufacturers are securing more distribution channels, and are no longer available exclusively from shady-looking websites you arrived at after accidentally clicking on an annoying pop-up ad. And more people are switching over to use the things as cessation aids; to get the nicotine fix without the tobacco smoke, the pitch at the core of e-cigarettes’ being.
There are still health concerns abound. Reuters reported earlier this year that “some scientists, including officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), warn that too many questions remain about the safety of these products.” A study carried out in Athens found that smoking an e-cigarette for even 5 minutes was capable of bringing about physiological changes in the smokers’ airways.
According to Reuters, “Researchers in Greece saw changes in the lung function of healthy smokers who puffed on an e-cigarette for just five minutes — although it’s not clear what the long-term result of those responses might be in regular e-cigarette users, the team reports in the journal Chest.” Health experts have plenty of other health concerns, and the e-cigs certainly need further and closer study.
But their market share is undoubtedly growing. They may be tacky and pose unknown health risks, or they might be the best thing that ever happened to smokers who can’t quit. Either way, the future of inhaling nicotine into your lungs increasingly belongs to smokeless delivery cartridges made in China.