Electronic cigarettes race ahead with new NASCAR sponsorships
T.J. Bell will drive the No. 50 Green Smoke Toyota Camry and Mike Bliss will drive the No. 32 blu Cigs Ford car. NASCAR's series sponsorship with Winston cigarettes ended in 2003 when the series became known as the NEXTEL Cup Series, and then changed to the Sprint Series a few years later. The Winston brand from R.J. Reynolds had sponsored the series since 1971.
Besides the names Green Smoke and blu Cigs, a major difference between the current electronic cigarette and the historic Winston brand is how the products work and brand ownership.
Most of the electronic cigarettes currently growing in popularity simulate the traditional act of smoking by creating a nicotine and/or flavored vapor heated by a battery-operated device, which produces the vapor only when it is inhaled. The electronic cigarette vapor creates little or no odor and disappears almost immediately after it is exhaled.
The risks and benefits of electronic cigarettes are open to debate and further study. However, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled that electronic cigarettes are to be regulated only as tobacco products if they aren’t marketed for therapeutic purposes. This means that the FDA can review new e-cigarette products before their sale, but can’t require manufacturers to conduct certain studies mandated for FDA approval of drugs or medical devices.
From a brand ownership standpoint, electronic cigarettes like Green Smoke and blu Cigs are leaders of a growing industry that includes many diverse companies as opposed to a few large ones. Green Smoke is based out of Miami and blu Cigs in Charlotte, along with others around North America and worldwide. It appears that the new electronic cigarette or "vaping" industry is using a combination of newer social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as some traditional forms like television, radio, print and now sports and racing sponsorships.
"Every driver goes into racing wanting to compete at the highest level possible," said Bell. "Green Smoke has come on board to make racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series a reality for me. This is a big step forward for my career and Green Smoke couldn't have picked a more perfect market to promote its product. I'm looking forward to a great future with Green Smoke."
While Green Smoke was the first to announce its NASCAR sponsorship with T.J. Bell, blu Cigs was soon to follow with Mike Bliss.
"We're responsible for a lot of firsts in our industry, so we're extremely excited to become the first e-cigarette company to sponsor a top 35 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car," said Jason Healy, president of blu Cigs. "We move fast and so does Mike Bliss; it's a natural fit."
Bliss began racing NASCAR in 1995 and has seven top-10 Sprint Cup Series finishes, has won two Nationwide Series races, and has 13 NASCAR Camping Truck Series wins. Bell has raced in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series. Prior to stock car racing, he competed in the Toyota Atlantics Series. Bell has raced for more than two decades, accumulating 20 top-10 finishes in ARCA competition and 13 NASCAR career top-10s.
With two high profile NASCAR drivers in the fold for Green Smoke and blu Cigs, there are also other celebrities who have appeared prominently using electronic cigarettes. These include Johnny Depp in the film "The Tourist," Katherine Heigl on the Late Show with David Letterman, Charlie Sheen wherever he rolls and others.
Whether it's race car drivers, celebrities or just regular folks, it will be interesting to see how marketing, advertising, social media and public opinion impact electronic cigarettes in the coming years.