Against the Odds: How Startup e-Cigarette Companies Can Still Make a Name for Themselves

The last few months have been a turbulent time for the e-cigarette industry. Before the vaping devices were in the public spotlight and subjected to ruthless scrutiny, they were a sound investment opportunity: they were supposed to be cigarettes but without the negative health implications.

For a while, big tobacco companies and venture capitalists were buying controlling stakes in promising e-cig startups that showed flair for technical innovation. But with forthcoming regulations that will standardise devices and stifling laws that will restrict e-cig advertisement, investment excitement has fizzled out. Even worse for vaping companies, popular opinion has changed too.

e-cig stall at Euston
photo credit: Denni Schnapp / Flickr

No wonder why those mechanical mods and portable vaporizers are on the spotlight nowadays because it’s totally different from e-cigs (See to learn more). Are we approaching the endgame for e-cigarettes, and if so, how can startup e-cig companies stand out in what has become such a saturated market?

Hero to zero

Many have turned against the devices that were once heralded as the possible cure for cigarette addiction. Recent news articles have demonised e-cigarettes, claiming they are just as dangerous as regular cigarettes. Others have simply argued that they could encourage non-smokers to start vaping and eventually lead to new smokers.

UK readers may recall a limited period before Christmas when e-cigarette adverts were first aired on television (around 50 years since the last smoking adverts). It seemed like a historic move, as new changes to advertising rules suddenly allowed advertisers to show people vaping. But following a high volume of complaints the adverts were banned weeks later and there have been no new ones since.

E-cigarette companies in a harsh climate

Remarkably perhaps, there are some e-cigarette companies that are successfully reaching new audiences all the time.

Having been denied the more obvious channels of advertising, e-cig companies have had to learn that if they’re going to outlast what has been called a “bubble industry”, they’ll have to do more than offer discount codes to attract a new audience.

From good PR to sheer passion for the industry, some companies have shed light on how to look good when the industry is going up in smoke.

Product placement

Blu UK have achieved what may seem like the impossible for a manufacturer of the much-maligned e-cigarette: working with a fashionable, exciting and above-all, refined East London based pop-up.

The Art of Dining is an experiential collaboration that pairs the skills of the Moro (an award winning restaurant in Exmouth Market) trained Chef Ellen Parr, and the artist and set designer, Alice Hodge.

Together they create multi-sensory experiences where the food and the setting have been painstakingly tailored to evoke a certain atmosphere. This is where Blu UK come in. They are providing the vaping devices for their most recent project: “Abigail’s Party”, a 1970s themed theatrical dining experience inspired by the play of the same name by Mike Leigh.

Staying true to the original Abigail’s Party, one of the characters in The Art of Dining’s pop-up will also have a nicotine delivery implement – an e-cigarette. Guests will also have the option to try e-cigarettes throughout the experience.

E-lites have also embraced the idea of partnering themselves with a compatible company. They have entered into a 3 year contract with the NEC Group, and will be providing e-lite e-cigarette dispensers and vaping zones at their venues in the West Midlands.

Though smokers are restricted from lighting up at the venues, the managing director of the NEC Group saw e-cigarettes as an ideal partner that allows people to improve their night out with the NEC by vaping if they wish to.

Bold product ranges

Rather than going the way of gaining exposure to those who may not be interested in vaping, other companies have expanded their enterprises by providing an invaluable service to the vaping community.

One of the most obvious ways of doing this is by providing a range of products that will satisfy every potential customer on the vaping spectrum: from the beginner to the veteran. But of course, unlike with regular cigarettes, when a device has been bought – it won’t need to be replaced for a long time.

Through exploring the conversations on vaping enthusiast forums like Planet of the Vapes, it’s clear that e-juices are a huge aspect of the e-cigarette experience – although the devices last a long time, the nicotine liquids can be used up quickly.

The Manchester based e-cigarette retailer TABlites is fast becoming recognised for the way they specialise in e-liquids. These expert purveyors stock nicotine liquids for all possible needs. They have blends with modified PG (propylene glycol) and VG (vegetable glycerin) ratios to provide varying levels of throat-hit or vapour release, a “decadence” range of exotic flavours, and they even import limited batches from e-liquid perfectionists like “Five Pawns”, based in California. All of their e-liquids are tested by the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association (ECITA) so that users can be sure of the purity.

Enhancing the product range doesn’t just extend to the components essential to vaping though. The e-cig startup Smokio has been praised for their versatile app that accompanies their e-cigarettes. With the Smokio app, users can personalise and learn from their vaping experience by monitoring consumption and controlling vapour density.

One of the main reasons people try e-cigarettes is to reduce the amount they smoke. With apps designed to help people understand and limit how much they vape, perhaps e-cigs can one day be seen as tools for harm reduction, not a replacement addiction.