We've told you about the electronic cigarette revolution: Thousands of people are switching from conventional cigarettes to electronic ones, believing that inhaling a vapor -- which typically contains propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, natural and artificial flavorings, and pure nicotine -- is much less harmful. The FDA has warned that the effects of "vaping" on humans are not yet known and might be dangerous. Still, analysts expect sales of e-cigarettes to surpass sales of traditional ones within a decade.
The FDA was expected to propose some industry regulations this past April but so far has not. While the e-cig market is still nascent, independent stores are moving to make huge profits before the tobacco industry bigwigs can move in and eat up all the market share. One of the biggest players here in South Florida, Vapor Shark, which was founded in 2010 and opened its first brick-and-mortar store in 2012, was the subject of our February story.
Now Vapor Shark's parent company, the Hand Media, is suing a competitor, Vapor Hog, claiming deceptive and unfair trade practices and unfair competition.
In a complaint in federal court, Vapor Shark claims that "Vapor Hog has siphoned, and continues to siphon, customers away from Vapor Shark by utilizing strikingly similar marks and a trade name that... infringes upon and dilutes the value of the VS marks and damages Vapor Shark." It points out that the "hog" in Vapor Hog "refers to a Hog-Snapper fish, not... a pig, boar, or other variety of swine" and alleges that the logos, color schemes, and store layouts are all copycatted.
Vapor Shark says that Vapor Hog has had the gall to leave fliers on cars parked at Vapor Shark and that Vapor Hog's minions go online to Yelp and other sites and falsely allege that Vapor Shark uses e-liquid from China. Vapor Shark counters that it's the Hog that gets its e-juice from China.
Vapor Shark owner Brandon Leidel said, "We're the number-one brand in South Florida" -- and that people shouldn't confuse his type of "high-performance" e-cigarette with cheap, skinny, disposable ones like Blu (owned by Big Tobacco company Lorillard) that are commonly found at convenience stores. "Those are a good way to start, but it doesn't satisfy people over time. There's not a lot of power in those mini batteries [and they] expose people to electronic cigarettes, and when they are looking to upgrade, we're ready for it here."
Vapor Hog, he says, is "just trying to be like us. They opened five blocks away." He said "there's a whole bunch" of similar e-cigarette stores now, and "competition is fine -- but infringing and trying confuse people is not." Leidel said the parties would be meeting this week to try to come to an agreement.
A man named Sergio at Vapor Hog initially said Leidel "made a big mistake... my attorneys are going to have a field day with him" and that "he has no case" before thinking better of it and referring questions to his attorney, who did not immediately return a call for comment.
Either way, Leidel says that the e-cig business is "very good" and that he recently partnered with Farm Stores to sell Vapor Shark e-cigarettes at 74 drive-through convenience stores in Florida.