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The Dark Truth Behind Electronic Cigarettes Part I: My Experience with Blu E-Cigs
January 9, 2015
by Loren Mayshark

I was first given a Blu electronic cigarette by fellow Can the Man writer, Spencer Santilli, who was trying to quit, or at least cut back in October of 2013.  He was moving on to a fancy push-button vaporizer that he had recently found on the internet so he gave me his old Blu e-cigarette starter kit.  I saw the Blu as a hobby that could have the potential upside of curbing, or completely ending, the social cigarettes I often crave after my third cocktail.  I thought this shiny, gently-used e-cig would be a healthier alternative.  I enjoyed using it in non-smoking bars and encouraging my smoking buddies to take a pull without the hassle of having to leave their stools.  I appreciated the added benefits of not smelling like smoke or burning holes into my shirts.  It was so great that I even started taking it to work with me.

You may have seen Blu’s advertisements plastered across your television screen using spokeswoman Jenny McCarthy’s ample maw.  Her contribution has helped Blu become a household name and perhaps the most recognizable form of electronic smoking.  But for me, after a few months of using the product, the broad appeal of Blu became increasingly mysterious.

When I finished my assortment of half used cherry crush, magnificent menthol, and the tantalizing java jolt flavored nicotine options, I purchased my own pack of “classic tobacco” cartridges, which screw into the ion battery.  The battery serves as the phallic cigarette tip that glows blue when you take a pull.  Soon after my purchase of replacement nicotine cartridges the ion battery faltered on my e-cig.  When the battery failed to work I ordered another and then, after a few weeks, was forced to replace the second.  Eventually the batteries simply wouldn’t charge.  The sleek e-cigarette pack, which comes with most Blu devices, is designed to charge the batteries but mine apparently never charged properly in the pack.  As a result, I resorted to charging the ion battery with the USB charger that was included with it.  Eventually this stopped functioning as well.  My new Blu toy was clearly not charging properly and I began to wonder how much better they were for me than regular cigarettes.  I was angry, so I picked up the phone to call Blu in hopes of finding some answers.

I was put on hold with Blu customer service and they assured me that my call was important to them.  I remember thinking that the company manufacturing the e-cig probably had no desire to help smokers quit or this process would be a lot smoother.  After all, clients with nicotine hankerings are not likely to wait on the other line for half an hour without lighting up.  Nicotine seems to be tailor made for stressful events and dealing with automated customer service is always stressful.  When I finally got through to a woman with a deep, throaty southern accent she told me that they would not take the charger back, but insisted they would submit my claim to a so-called “review board” that would perhaps send me another pack and charger.  In a week or so I was surprised when the new USB charger arrived, along with a smaller sleeker charger pack.  I was excited and immediately tried to use the new equipment.  Frustratingly, the new pack was not designed to work with my plug-in wall charger because mine was from the previous model and the chargers were not universal.  I tried the USB charger and it would not charge my batteries which led me to believe that I needed new ones.  At this point I was sick of dealing with the company and ready to throw the entirety of my Blu cigarette system into Lake Chautauqua.  The entire process was a complete hassle when compared with the simple pleasure of firing up your favorite Marlboro.

It was at this time that I began to seriously ponder why this company seemed to be incompetent, why their shit didn’t work and why they seemed not to care if their shit worked at all.  After doing some online research I found that Blu e-cigs was purchased by Lorillard in April 2012 for $135 million.  Lorillard makes a number of cigarette brands, most notably Newport.  Lorillard merged with Reynolds (RAI), owner of R.J. Reynolds in July of 2014. The $25 Billion merger of Lorillard and Reynolds made the two companies a formidable opponent to America’s largest tobacco company: Altria (parent of Philip Morris).  A curious part of the game-changing merger was the insistence by Reynolds that the newly formed tobacco company drop Blu e-cigs.  This seems a curious requirement for a company that Lorillard had purchased just a couple years before and had been showering with advertising dollars and marketing schemes. [1]

The official explanation of this curious deal is that Reynolds has a superior e-cigarette called Vuse that they wanted to headline their vapor products.  This begs the question: what is wrong with Blu?  If Blu is an inferior product (given my experience this is not hard to imagine), then why was Lorillard so committed to it before the merger?  Could it be that the Blu vaporizer was a Trojan Horse, propped up by an aggressive ad campaign, which served other purposes for the company?  In my experience that explanation makes perfect sense.

Quitting smoking is not a small feat, and anyone who has tried or had a loved one who has quit knows that you need every weapon in your arsenal to beat smoking.  I once lived with an ex who quit, and understand that quitting is extremely difficult.  Chemically, nicotine is more addictive than heroin. My former girlfriend battled for years to quit smoking.  I tirelessly supported her efforts, which were fortified by various aids such as nicotine gum, acupuncture, etc., only to see her fall off the wagon and have to start the whole process again.  It was exhausting and I wasn’t even the one quitting. This was before the ubiquity of e-cigarettes, which could have offered an alternative solution.  But do these tobacco companies actually want people to quit?  Or do they want to make it so frustrating, as it was for me, that people go back to smoking?  In my experience there was not just simple incompetence on the part of Blu, but what seemed like a deliberate decision to make a broken product.  The futility of the design and function of the Blu e-cig would seem to make it impossible for an addicted smoker to make a serious run at quitting with the system as the only tool.

Note:  In the second part of this piece to be published on 1/16/15 I will explore other people’s experiences with Blu and provide further detailed evidence that supports the assertion that the potentially harmful Blu E-Cigs were purposefully designed to push smokers back to cigarettes.

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