The Future’s Smokin’

03 June, 2015 Share socially
Tobacco advertising control was introduced to limit the ability of a category proven to cause long-term health problems – including death – to engage in direct communication with consumers, many of whom are not yet legally permitted to buy their products. It is a worthy and vital goal, and one proven time and again to have a very positive impact on the numbers of smokers – especially amongst the young.

Then, the not-so-obvious. What it was never designed to do was stimulate one of the biggest and most rapid category inventions the consumer world has ever seen – but today that appears to have been one of its greatest (unintended) consequences. The emergence of tar-free nicotine delivery systems is being credited by health authorities such as the UK’s NHS as being “1000 times less harmful than cigarettes” – and that is to be hugely celebrated.

But finally, the downright unexpected.

Walking through a busy shopping mall in the UK, my attention was caught by an unusual retail space, for a brand called VIP. Initially it appeared to be some kind of cocktail bar, or perhaps an upmarket perfumery. Instead, it was an e-cigarette ‘Blending Boutique’ that looked more like an Apple store than a tobacco stockist.

The innovative, contemporary retail approach aside, what really struck me was the sudden richness and diversity of experience on offer. As well as the usual tobacco flavours designed to be like-for-like smoking substitutes (‘USA Tobacco’, ‘British Gold’, ‘Virginia Rolling’), you can choose from ‘Banana Bliss’, ‘Strawberry Velvet’, ‘Cola Cubes’ or even the mysterious ‘XXX Dark Orc’.

Smoking has never been so beguiling – or bespoke. In store, you can approach a VIP ‘mixologist’ for advice, or even create your own tailored flavour. The image of smoking has always been about independence and individuality – but this may be the first time it has ever truly delivered on its promise.

And all of this has been made possible by the clampdown on tobacco marketing, sparking a raft of nimble new competitors into action in markets across the world. If that forces complacent industry leaders into new, radical ways of reappraising the business they are in – then so much the better.

With new pioneers exploring the smoking frontier, discovering exciting, wilder yet safer ways to express your individuality, smoking may be closer than ever to finding an acceptable place in a healthy society with a positive, long-term future. Big Tobacco has clearly already taken note, with R&D labs researching non-combustible technologies – but in attempting to create like-for-like smoking substitutes they may be missing the point.

In a brand like VIP, who creates and curates such rich, engaging, personalised experiences for the discerning masses, we may have caught a glimpse of the unexpected future face of smoking, and we should be pleased.