The founder of Blu Cigs, battery-powered electronic cigarettes that mimic the look and feel of traditional cigs and deliver vaporized nicotine to users, believes he's discovered an innovation that could help his company compete with R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris.
Jason Healy, president of the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company, and his team have spent about a year developing the "Smart Pack," a first-of-its-kind e-cig pack which features unique ID technology that detects nearby e-smokers. Before, e-cig packs were meant simply as a portable charging device for the glowing blue-tip devices. Now, when a fellow user is "vaping" (not smoking) within a 50-foot range, the Smart Pack will notify both parties, potentially prompting a social interaction. What's more, the company has designed the products for seamless integration with social networks like Facebook and Twitter, essentially making the Smart Pack the Foursquare check-in for the nicotine-addicted consumer.
"Customers were always telling us how social Blu e-cigs were—they'd be in a bar or outside, and someone would see this blue light and what looks like smoke," says the Australian-born Healy, who before developing the unlikely smokeless cigarettes ran his first business manufacturing basketball gear in China. "Quite often it sparks a conversation—I actually had a doctor who kept emailing me cause it kept getting him laid. So we started to develop the social aspect of it."
This is all sparking up as public smoking gets slowly extinguished as a social habit. Restaurants and bars around the globe have shooed second-hand fumes to the sidewalk, where cigarette-dependents stand cordoned off from the inside chatter, likely griping about the soaring cost of a pack.
"More and more smokers are becoming lepers," Healy says. "We're not just selling electronic cigarettes—we're selling freedom."
E-cigs have have faced significant scrutiny from government agencies, anti-smoking groups, and health organizations, but controversy aside, they're growing in popularity—last year Healy says his company did roughly $30 million in online sales.
Working with a veteran engineer from BMW and NASA, Healy says he designed the product to be as simple and seamless as possible—the "Apple policy," as he calls it. The plan is to realease it optimized for an "iTunes-like" desktop application that enables users to keep up with all the e-cig interactions they've had, whether on the street or in the pub. Users will be able to sync their Smart Packs to their computers to change their profiles, see the people they've connected with, update privacy settings, or port over data to social media platforms like Facebook.
"You can set whatever parameters you'd like," Healy says. "It could range from leave me alone to I'm single to I want a drinking buddy all the way to please date me."
As Healy explains, the Smart Pack will help migrate social interaction off of computers and smartphones, and help foster personal dialogue through the bond of electronic cigarettes.
"I look at these social and dating networks, and I think, why don't you just walk up and talk to some people instead of having to do it online? Our products have a great ice-breaker quality that our customer loves: People see their Packs flashing, the logo on the front lights up, it's very visible," Healy says. "In a dating sense, your Pack is laying the groundwork for you. It's almost like a little wing man, from a guy's perspective. You don't have to go up to a girl with a cheesy pick-up line. It's doing all the talking for you because you're too chicken-shit to do it yourself."
The Smart Pack is currently being tested secretly. It's slated to be released in June to masses of vapor-sucking swingers, and then we presume we'll start reading Facebook and Twitter posts about the satisfying sensation of a post-coital Blu Cig.
[Top feat image by Francois Karm]