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'Smart pack' encourages social networking among e-cig users

A Blu Cig pack.

Jeremy Hobson: Today the Food and Drug Administration will unveil nine new graphic warning labels that'll start appearing on cigarette packs next year. Think pictures of rotting teeth. The tobacco industry is already adjusting to tougher regulations with new products like electronic-cigarettes. One e-cigarette maker called Blu Cigs has even introduced a "smart pack" that alerts you when you're around other users.

Marketplace's Sean Cole is a smoker and he went to try it out.


Sean Cole: The Blu Cigs smart pack looks like a normal, flip-top box of cigarettes -- except it's hard plastic. You keep your replacement cartridges in there. It's also totally sci-fi. Say you're out for a casual stroll with your Blu Cig.

Cole: Smoking my e-cigarette in New York.

And another Blu Cig user is standing on the corner. When you come within 50 feet of each other...

Soren Wheeler: Wish I had someone to talk to. Oh!

Cole: Oh!

Both of your packs start vibrating and flashing a blue light.

Cole: There must be someone nearby.

Wheeler: There must be -- Ah! That guy. Hey!

Cole: Who is also, oh look!

Wheeler: Is that your buzzer?

Cole: You smoke, you smoke Blu!

Wheeler: You know these things are great.

Cole: I think they're positively disgusting.

Wheeler: Really?

Cole: No.

Of course, this is just a simulation. The company did lots of these in its market testing.

Jason Healy: It's funny to watch people look around and look for the person and go, "Hey! Hey!" They hold their pack up.

Jason Healy is the president of Blu Cigs. He says the smart pack is supposed to help his half-million or so customers commune in person, just like many of them do online. Plus, you can set it to transmit your Facebook and Twitter profiles, in case you don't feel like kibitzing with the other Blu user right away.

Healy: While you guys might not have spoken or you didn't speak in depth, your packs have exchanged whatever information you both want people to know about you or don't want to know.

Now, there are dozens of models of e-cigs, new brand names all the time. Blu Cigs go for around $70 right now. The smart pack will cost about $80. So the question is will enough Blu devotees make the switch?

Angelique Ottobre: Is there a way to turn off the social networking feature of it?

Cole: There is.

Ottobre: OK.

Angelique Ottobre is a 40-year-old housewife in Virginia. She's been using Blu Cigs for about a year and a half. And she's not too interested in vibrating her way toward other users.

Ottobre: I don't go out and do the clubbing and, you know, I'm married so I don't date. It's unnecessary for me.

But she says she'll probably buy the smart pack down the road, if only because it's easier to recharge the battery now. Reactions to it on the e-cigs forums range from, "That's cool!" to "That's creepy!" But just like any innovation, e-cigs in general have fostered a lot of excitement. Be warned though: mutual excitement does not necessarily lead to friendship.

Cole: Actually if you turned your Facebook function on I can chat later on Facebook.

Wheeler: Yeeeeeah, that's OK. That's...

Cole: Oh, OK.

I'm Sean Cole for Marketplace.

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