As E-Cigarette Growth Booms, 3 Major Challenges Loom

E-cigarettes are growing by leaps and bounds according to a recent survey, but three major challenges could stymie sector growth over the long term.

Jun 21, 2014 at 11:32AM

The war on tobacco has been one of the largest conflicts that has ensued within the U.S. over the past 50 years.

Led by public campaigns packed with knowledge, as well as a recent print, media, and online ad campaign from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – the first of its kind for the CDC -- the U.S. adult smoking rate in the U.S. has dropped from 42% in 1965 to just 18% as of 2011. This is what you would call a successful reeducation campaign.

Smoking Trends Cdc
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unfortunately, this still means that somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 million Americans are classified as smokers. With the negative health effects of smoking well known, the CDC, Food and Drug Administration, and U.S.regulators would like to persuade as many people as possible to put down their cigarettes and quit for good.

Electronic cigarette growth is booming
However, nicotine is a highly addictive substance and most smokers won't be able to simply quit "cold turkey." This is where electronic cigarettes come in, and why a number of smokers have turned to these devices as a way to wean themselves off cigarettes.

Images

Source: Lindsay Fox, Flickr.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs for short, heat a flavored liquid solution containing nicotine inside a metal tube, turning the liquid into an inhalable vapor. The allure of these devices is that they contain the nicotine that smokers are addicted to without a number of the harmful chemicals typically found in cigarette smoke. In other words, the perception would be that e-cigs are a safer alternative source for nicotine.

Growth in e-cigs is absolutely soaring, at least according to a study published this week by my alma mater, the University of California, San Diego. Researchers at UCSD's School of Medicine noted that "10 new e-cigarette brands have entered the Internet marketplace every month, on average, from 2012 to 2014, and that there are currently 466 e-cigarette brands online, offering more than 7,700 flavors."

UCSD's study also demonstrated a distinctive shift between established e-cigarette brands and newer brands. As lead author Shu-Hong Zhu noted, older e-cig brands tended to focus their marketing message around the cost-effectiveness and comparable health benefits of e-cigarettes compared to traditional cigarettes. Newer brands try and avoid any comparisons to cigarettes whatsoever, emphasizing flavor and choice instead. 

Three major challenges loom for e-cigarette industry
Growth might be off the charts for the e-cig industry, but that doesn't mean it won't face a number of challenges over the near-term. Specifically, I see three hurdles it will need to overcome in the coming years in order to be successful.

Doctor Stethoscope

Source: Alex Proimos, Wikimedia Commons.

One we dove into just last month: the Food and Drug Administration's initial proposal to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products. The truth of the matter is that we don't know a lot about the long-term effects of e-cig vapor as of yet, and until more is known the FDA would much rather take a conservative approach to classification. More so, the FDA wants to ensure that minors aren't allowed access to e-cigarettes as this could actually cause tobacco addiction rates to rise.

While these seem like fair concerns, the FDA's decision could have an adverse impact on the bottom-line of e-cig manufacturers like Lorillard (NYSE:LO), the company behind the dominant Blu E-Cigs brand, while potentially boosting insurers' profits. If insurers choose to classify e-cigs as tobacco products they could jack up the premium rates of those using the inhalable devices and would likely reap significant financial benefits as the long-term health effects of inhaled vapor versus traditional cigarette smoke is portrayed as night and day by the e-cigarette industry. If insurance costs rise because of e-cigarette use it's possible that companies like Lorillard could see their sales growth stall. For the moment we're still waiting to see where most insurers will stand on their classification of these devices.

Secondly, while pundits have focused to no end on the possible health benefits and risks of e-cigarettes, they've ignored the potential for market oversaturation that UCSD's study exposed. Competition is good for the consumer, but it can be bad for businesses as it has the potential to reduce pricing power and pressure margins. More e-cigarette manufacturers means higher advertising budgets just to stand out from the crowd.

Furthermore, the rapid growth of e-cigarette brands creates a Catch-22-like dilemma for consumers and investors.

Www
E-liquid vapor shop, Source: Lindsay Fox, Flickr.

On one hand, I'd be concerned about the quality of product given the rapid influx of new brands. As UCSD's study points out, newer e-cig brands appear to be more focused on flavor, which lends concern that they could be enticing the wrong audience (i.e., minors) or sending the wrong signal. The FDA has been pretty clear that e-cigs are to be used as smoking cessation tool and nothing more.

On the other hand, if the FDA does choose to regulate each new brand that comes to market we could be looking at a veritable mountain of paperwork that could slow new e-cig brand emergence to a crawl and divert FDA attention away from where it should be – regulating pharmaceutical drug development.

Finally, investors have been gung-ho about the potential for the e-cig industry -- and with good reason given initial consumer demand -- but the question no one seems to be asking is whether or not this is a viable business model over the long-term.

In 2013, for example, e-cigarette sales crossed the $1 billion mark. By comparison, total tobacco revenue for the largest six tobacco companies in the world – China National Tobacco, Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, Imperial Tobacco, and Altria – tallied $346 billion with $35 billion in profits in 2010. Put simply, the impact of e-cigarettes is but a blip on tobacco producers' radars at the moment.

Lorillard, which controls 45% of U.S. e-cigarette market share based on its first-quarter results, actually saw sales slip year-over-year to $51 million from its Blu E-Cigs brand from $57 million in the year-ago quarter. Additionally, a near-doubling in selling, general and administrative costs pushed its e-cigarette segment to an $11 million net loss. If the biggest e-cigarette maker in the U.S. is having trouble turning a steady profit with 45% market share, then what exactly does it take for this industry to be economically viable? 

For now I'd suggest that there are far too many questions and few answers. While the industry does offer rapid revenue growth opportunities, the potential for industry regulation and slower growth through tougher competition remain distinct possibilities. Until we see healthy profits from e-cigarette manufacturers, it's probably best not to fall for their smoke and mirror growth promises.

If you think e-cigarette growth is impressive, wait till you get a closer look at the potential behind this top stock!
The best investors consistently reap gigantic profits by recognizing true potential earlier and more accurately than anyone else. Let me cut right to the chase. There is a product in development that will revolutionize not how we treat a common chronic illness, but potentially the entire health industry. Analysts are already licking their chops at the sales potential. In order to outsmart Wall Street and realize multi-bagger returns you will need The Motley Fool’s new free report on the dream-team responsible for this game-changing blockbuster. CLICK HERE NOW.

Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.

The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.


Compare Brokers