The jury may still be out on e-cigs as a mass consumer proposition, but that’s only because we’re in a prolonged “experimentation” phase in which consumers - and legislators - are still making up their minds.
Walk into a typical convenience store these days and you are confronted by a riot of smoking options, and not just the innumerable tobacco brands, ready made and roll-your-own, which are now - by law - hidden from public view.
We now have the proliferation of e-cigs too, products which in one sense have caught on like wildfire but which are still in the process of gaining widespread acceptability.
To confuse things further there’s an understandable “down” on tobacco products generally, because of the well-attested health risks, but also honest doubt about whether e-cigs are a safe and acceptable alternative.
The incredible and still-growing diversity of what could loosely be called the "smoking" market may be difficult to negotiate for experienced retailers as much as consumers, but the momentum is all going one way. It might be fair to suggest we’re about to see an acceleration in the use of e-cigs at the same time as tobacco - priced out of the market, increasingly - is finally losing its centuries-old ascendancy.
We are starting to see emerging field leaders in the electronic cigarettes market, such as, blu ecigs as an example of how a success can take off on the back of declining share for a trad product that’s fallen out of favour.
It has won major listings in a string of premier league national retail chains, and much industry-related kudos for the energy it has invested in product development.
There’s some interesting research to support the idea that new consumers are switching to e-cigs, with a new report - Tobacco Use in Canada: Patterns and Trends - showing that a fifth of youths aged 15 to 19 experiment with vaping, exactly the same number which try cigarettes.
The evidence of one’s eyes suggests exactly the same is happening in Scotland, where - as usual - a new category has taken everybody by surprise.
Meanwhile E-cigs are seen as acceptable in some public places but not, evidently, in others, in what has become a clumsy mish-mash approach to a product few appear to yet fully understand.
Some worry about the chemicals inhaled with e-cigarettes, but their massive advantage is the self-evident lack of tobacco.
But there’s another argument about whether they should or should not be allowed to contain nicotine, the addictive ingredient in tobacco - and of course meanwhile there’s a massive market for nicotine patches, a totally different category altogether.
If we accept that a mass consumer product like tobacco is never going to simply disappear within a few years - it is proving to be a generational process - it could be that e-cigs, and perceptions of their acceptable use, will steadily replace cigarettes as the slow decline in tobacco use continues.
If so the real winners will surely be those committed to consistent “best practice” in a still-evolving category.
While the “best” variants will win what amounts to a Darwinian battle of evolution over tobacco, it’s equally likely the plethora of styles available at the moment will ultimately mirror the pattern of branded tobacco sales - meaning the big retail names of the future will be on packs of main brand e-cigs, not cigarettes