Smoking used to be sexy. Look at Mad Men or Humphrey Bogart. But that was then. These days, Americans are buying fewer cigarettes. Just this week, U.S. tobacco companies released their first quarter earnings, and, unsurprisingly, cigarette sales were down from last year.
But that doesn't mean tobacco companies aren't still profitable. Smoke-free products like e-cigarettes are marketed as a less harmful alternative. And, for now at least, you can puff them indoors.
E-cigarettes are made to look like regular cigarettes, but they're far more complicated.
"It's an electronic device that uses a battery, and it heats an liquid nicotine solution that users then inhale like they would a traditional cigarette," explains reporter Michael Felberbaum, who wrote about the trend for the Associated Press.
Smoking Freely, For Now
You may have already seen e-cigarettes for sale at your local drugstore. So have all the major tobacco companies, and they want to compete.
"As of very recently, all of the top tobacco companies have announced plans or already have an electronic cigarette on the market," Felberbaum says.
Altria, the company that brought you the Marlboro Man — is the last American tobacco company to say they plan to release an e-cigarette later this year. They're behind tobacco company Lorillard Inc., who purchased the e-cigarette maker Blu last year.
Freedom to puff on an e-cigarette indoors might sound great to smokers sick of looking like aging hoodlums in doorways, but e-cigarette fans shouldn't necessarily get used to it. Local governments are already taking steps to limit e-smoking in places where traditional smoking is banned.
Regulation May Be On The Way
The FDA warns that more research needs to be done on the health risks of inhaling liquid nicotine.
"The FDA has said that it plans to assert regulatory authority over electronic cigarettes. And that could lead to them being regulated in the same way as cigarettes as far as marketing is concerned," Felberbaum says.
That hasn't stopped people calling them an effective way to quit smoking. Actress Katherine Heigl even puffed one on the Late Show with David Letterman in 2010. However, because of the way e-cigarettes are classified, manufacturers can't advertise the product that way.
"The companies are not allowed to market them as smoking cessation devices because that would put them in the category of other nicotine replacement products that are regulated by the FDA, such as nicotine gum or patches," Felberbaum says.
So for now, e-cigarette smokers can pretty much puff away, and they are.
Industry experts say U.S. sales could even reach 1 billion this year.