Since the early days of Colorado's marijuana legalization movement, the prospect of Big Tobacco moving into the state and taking over the pot industry has concerned activists. So it was only natural that when RJ Reynolds, among the most powerful of the nation's tobacco companies, announced that it had chosen Colorado to launch its new e-cigarette -- which looks a lot like similar devices used for consuming weed without the overpowering odor or harshness of smoking -- cannabis-scene observers couldn't help wondering if this marked step one in an invasion plan.
But RJ Reynolds spokespersons who gathered for a press event at the Curtis Hotel yesterday to tout the new Vuse e-cig insist nothing could be further from the truth.
"We are a U.S. tobacco company," notes Richard Smith, Reynolds American's lead communications manager. "We are not getting into the marijuana business."
Why, then, would RJ Reynolds debut the product in Colorado? According to Cheryl Zukowski, Reynolds American director of marketing, the staff took a lot of things into account, including consumer awareness and the different retail channels available here.
"Colorado offered us a unique opportunity in that it's a diverse state and we've got a lot of adult smokers who are interested in e-cigarettes," Zukowski says. "We also have great partnerships here with a lot of key retailers, and our trade sales force here in Colorado is one of the best."
Colorado is supposed to be just the first stop in a national roll-out of the devices -- and Reynolds representatives stress that it's not adaptable to pot, because the rechargeable cigarette is only operational with Vuse nicotine cartridges.
The small canisters aren't user serviceable and have a microprocessor inside that communicates with another processor in Vuse's battery.
Says vice president of operations Fred Ampolini, "This microprocessor is responsible for managing the entire operation of the e-cig, so that when the consumer grabs that e-cigarette and smokes it, he gets that perfect puff the first time and every time."
Reynolds executives see the processors as revolutionary. And they make the same claims about the assembly of Vuse -- by robots.
"Of the 250 or so different brands out there today, they all come from the same handful of manufacturers in mainland China, where these products are hand assembled by workers in rows in factories," Smith says.
But because they're handmade, he continues, the quality of other brands varies from cigarette to cigarette, which discourages smokers from their use. In contrast, Vuse e-cigs, manufactured in the United States, are supposedly made so that every drag is the same on every cigarette.
The device has a warning mechanism set up to tell users when the cartridge is running low or the battery is about to die, along with a couple other sleek features
Continue to read more about the Vuse e-cigarette. Among them: a quick-connect mechanism that allows people to just snap the cartridge and battery into place rather than screwing them together. The company also offers a recycling program; just send Vuse a request via its website and staffers will return a self-addressed paid envelope to return used cartridges and dead power units.
Vuse will be available in convenience stores on July 1 at a substantially lower cost than standard cigarettes. The $10 cost includes a battery pack, nicotine cartridge and charger, and refills are only about three bucks apiece. Moreover, one cartridge is supposed to last as long as a pack of cigarettes.
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"On a national average, an adult smoker could save upwards of $1,000 a year by switching to Vuse," Zukowski says.
Although it may seem a little strange that Colorado is the first stop on the Vuse vapor trail, Smith says this: "While I can't tell you specific times and specific states just yet, Colorado is just the first step in major national distribution."
And marijuana has nothing to do with it. They swear.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana magazines as porn rule declared unconstitutional by state attorney general."