The Changing Definition of the E-Cigarette Starter Kit
Guest Post By Jason Artman
What people think of when they consider the term “e-cigarette starter kit” – along with what they expect such a kit to include and what they expect to pay for it – has changed greatly over the first 10 years of the vaping industry. The best part is that, as is so often the case in new tech industries, the consumers are the ones who have benefitted the most from this evolution. Almost any sane person today would look at an e-cigarette starter kit from 10 years ago and say that it looks like a complete rip-off. Nowadays, starter kits are so cheap that some companies probably aren’t even earning money from them at all. They’re just hoping to break even on the kits and earn a profit from selling the pods, cartridges or coils. That’s a far cry from the vaping industry of a decade ago. So, how have e-cigarette kits evolved over the past decade? Let’s take a walk down memory lane.
The Early Years
Many of the e-cigarette brands that launched during the earliest years of the vaping industry didn’t exactly seem as though they were founded by people interested in building companies with long-term stability and consumer trust. Those early vaping entrepreneurs simply recognized that if they were among the first people to import vaping kits from China and offer them for sale in their cities, then they’d be selling those kits to people who had never seen anything like them before. Therefore, they could get away with charging almost any amount for those kits.
In the early years of the vaping industry, it wasn’t rare to see a price exceeding $100 for an e-cigarette starter kit including nothing more than one or two batteries, one semi-permanent atomizer, five push-on refill cartridges, and a USB battery charger. Adding insult to injury, the “three-piece” e-cigarette with a semi-permanent atomizer and sponge-filled refill cartridge was a notoriously poor design that never delivered anywhere near the “pack of cigarettes in each cartridge” longevity retailers promised. Needless to say, many of the people who tried vaping around 2008-2010 didn’t like it much at all – especially given the high prices they paid for the starter kits. Some of those early e-cigarette brands actually tried to do right by their customers, though, and many of those brands stuck around long enough to experience the industry’s first phase of explosive growth.
The Vaping Explosion
After the vaping industry had been around for a few years, companies began to phase out the original three-piece e-cigarette in favor of a more reliable two-piece design in which every cartridge had its own built-in atomizer coil. The second-generation e-cigarette cartridge – also called the “cartomizer” – is still the type of cartridge that most cigarette-shaped e-cigarettes use today. The cartomizer made e-cigarettes more reliable, user friendly and satisfying. The people who bought the new two-piece e-cigarettes often stuck with them, and the companies that sold those e-cigarettes began to enjoy the growth that comes with building up a steady customer base.
By this time, customers had begun to realize that their local mall kiosks weren’t the only places where they could buy vaping products. Online sales of e-cigarettes exploded, and for a while, e-commerce drove much of the industry’s growth. Competition is fierce in online sales, though, and it quickly became obvious that companies couldn’t charge over $100 for a kit with two batteries and five refill cartridges anymore. E-cigarette brands didn’t want to sacrifice their enviable profit margins, though, so they kept their prices stable at first while adding more items to their e-cigarette starter kits. During the first growth phase of the e-cigarette industry – from around 2012-2014 – a well-appointed starter kit would still set you back over $100. When you bought a kit in that price range, though, you could expect to receive several batteries and a large supply of refill cartridges along with extra pack-ins such as neck lanyards, portable battery charging cases and car chargers.
The Race to the Bottom
Around 2014, experienced vapers began to switch en masse from cigalikes to more powerful vape pens and box mods. Sellers of traditional cigalikes suddenly began to lose their long-term customers, and they had to acquire new customers as quickly as possible to continue selling their profitable refill cartridges. To keep starter kits flowing out the door, e-cigarette brands began removing some of the optional packed-in items from their kits and shipping the minimum viable products possible at the lowest prices possible. Before long, an e-cigarette starter kit that would previously have cost upwards of $100 sold for as little as $25. Some companies even released e-cigarettes with proprietary connections that prevented people from using their devices with competing companies’ refill cartridges.
The Year 1 A. J.
In 2015, PAX Labs released the JUUL e-cigarette, and the look of the traditional e-cigarette starter kit changed forever. The JUUL starter kit borrowed its packaging and design cues heavily from Apple, and people definitely took notice. The JUUL looked drastically different from other e-cigarettes available at the time. It launched with an expensive – and highly effective – publicity campaign, and before long, the JUUL was America’s most popular e-cigarette. By 2019, some of the very popular e-cigarette brands of the past – V2 Cigs and Green Smoke, to name two – were gone.
The Age of the Boutique E-Cigarette
These days, any traditional or pod-based e-cigarette that’s not a JUUL is – in the United States, at least – essentially a boutique e-cigarette. Other Big Tobacco brands such as Blu are still kicking around, and of course, there’s still a steady stream of new mods to please the vapers who have no interest in switching to pod systems. For those who prefer the traditional vaping experience of using a cigalike, though, there are plenty of unique e-cigarettes still out there competing for your attention. Some have interesting pack-in accessories, and others have batteries with fancy colors and wraps. Others use cartridges filled with tasty domestic e-liquid rather than the cheap imported e-liquid that the e-cigarettes of the past used. Today’s boutique e-cigarettes are well worth seeking out if you prefer the traditional vaping experience.