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A Social Networking Device for Smokers

Companies have started adding the ability to communicate wirelessly to an increasing range of devices, like tablet computers, cars and refrigerators.

Image of an e-cigarette
Source: ecigaretteschoice.com
Image of an e-cigarette

Now they are doing it with cigarettes.

Blu, the maker of electronic cigarettes that release a nicotine-laden vapor instead of smoke, has developed packs of e-cigarettes with sensors that will let users know when other e-smokers are nearby.

Think of it as social smoking for the social networking era.

“You’ll meet more people than ever, just because of the wow factor,” said Jason Healy, the founder of Blu, who did not appear to be making friends as he exhaled the odorless vapor of an e-cigarette at a coffee shop in Midtown Manhattan recently. “It’s like with any new technology.”

E-cigarettes have several obvious advantages to their traditional counterparts. They allow users to avoid bans on smoking in public places because they release only water vapor. Mr. Healy and other e-cigarette manufacturers also claim that they have practically no negative health effects — an assertion that draws skepticism in many quarters. But the devices are also, in their own way, gadgets.

The new “smart packs,” which will go on sale next month for $80 for five e-cigarettes, are equipped with devices that emit and search for the radio signals of other packs. When they get within 50 feet of one another, the packs vibrate and flash a blue light.

The reusable packs, which serve as a charger for the cigarettes, can be set to exchange information about their owners, like contact information on social networking sites, that can be downloaded onto personal computers.

The packs also conveniently vibrate when a smoker nears a retail outlet that sells Blu cigarettes.

Later versions will be tethered to a smartphone through an app, allowing more options for real-time communication, Mr. Healy said. The company also plans to develop a system through which the packs will monitor how much people are smoking and report back to them — or to their doctors.

Marketers think people want more devices to link to each other. More than 105 million adult Americans have at least two types of connected devices, and 37 million have five or more, according to Forrester Research.

Nintendo’s new hand-held gaming systems, the 3DS, communicate with one another when brought into close proximity. A smartphone app called Color allows users to take photographs that are then automatically shared with anyone nearby who has also downloaded the app. It recently raised $41 million from venture capitalists.

But Charles S. Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research who has studied connected devices, said that ideas like Blu’s connected cigarettes or Color show that digital connections can get ahead of the reasons for doing so.

“The way that groups of affinity are conferred just by physical proximity makes a bit of sense,” he said. “If someone walks by with a Nintendo, great, I share a common interest. The fact that I walk by a smoker? Seems like a weak link.”

Mr. Healy says he thinks the connected packs would be most useful in nightclubs, where people are interested in striking up conversations and want to smoke without being forced outside.

Adam Alfandary, 24, a Brooklyn resident who works for a technology start-up, was skeptical. He said that the social aspects of smoking were a part of the reason he continued to light up, but he scoffed at the idea of a cigarette that would do the social part for him. “I think that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” he said.

“And I’m saying that in full acknowledgment that smoking is one of the dumbest things I can do.”

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