A Company with a Conscience

Smoke NV

The story of Smoke NV began in 2006. Mr. Mohamedali was on vacation in the U.S. when he saw the electronic cigarette for sale and decided to make a purchase. He brought the product back with him and showed it to a group of physicians with whom he ultimately started the company. The concept was good, but flawed and gimmicky, he thought. Cartridges would leak, the atomizer would get clogged and not produce enough vapour, and the battery life was limited. Mr. Mohamedali drew from his experience studying international business at the University of Alberta, and set to work with the physicians and design team to resolve the kinks in the e-cigarette model.

The physicians addressed the obvious paramount concerns: what are the ingredients, how is it made, and is the product safe? Attempting to address their safety concerns, Mr. Mohamedali and several physicians travelled to China to visit about a dozen factories and purchased the electronic cigarettes. “We were lucky to have them participate and they allowed us to video tape the production assembly to get a better understanding as to what was in the product,” he explains.

At first the physicians did not like the e-cigarette because the device didn’t contain a regulator, meaning that the consumer could not gauge the amount of nicotine that was absorbed into the bloodstream. Smoke NV decided to approach product development by trying to understand the experiences of smokers trying to quit. The company started by recognizing the associated oral fixation, and then the fact that physiologically, nicotine withdrawal is complete approximately two weeks after quitting. The company then had to contend with the reality that it takes the average smoker seven to ten attempts before quitting for good, leaving physicians to wonder why so many people go back to smoking after kicking the nicotine, only to get hooked again. “Part of the answer is that it is habitual – like a morning coffee,” explains Mr. Mohamedali. “As a group we discussed that if we were going forward with this product then it would not contain nicotine.”

Smoke NV decided that it would be important to use clinical trials to substantiate the scientific evidence of the product’s effectiveness with and without nicotine. The trials allowed the company to understand better how the body absorbs the vapour produced by the e-cigarette. When smoking, nicotine enters the bloodstream within seconds. With the patch it takes up to ten minutes, and with gum it can take up to twenty minutes. Trials were needed to determine how the vapour might be absorbed with nicotine, be it through the mouth, lungs, or elsewhere along the respiratory tract.

Smoke NV has maintained an open dialogue with Health Canada for the past four years in order to address concerns over the new and burgeoning e-cigarette industry. On March 27th, 2009 Health Canada put a ban on the product, making it illegal to sell, produce, or import e-cigarettes. “We asked to meet with them and flew to Ottawa. They were very happy to discuss it because up to that point no one else had bothered. They banned it because of the nicotine, and the lack of a regulator to determine how it entered the bloodstream. The ban meant that an electronic smoking product that contained nicotine or drugs would be monitored and subject to Health Canada guidelines. So since our product did not have any of the above we were not governed by those laws.” That is when the conversation really opened up with the government.

There were many issues with the e-cigarette in its initial stages. The Smoke NV model takes the form of a cartridge of liquid that is vaporized when the user draws air through the cigarette. The company learned that the producers in China were not testing the cartridges properly, provoking great concern. “They put it to someone’s mouth, wiped it with an alcohol swab and re-packaged it. We were shocked that this was part of the quality control! This needed to immediately be fixed,” says Mr. Mohamedali. The next problem was how they attached the atomizer to the cartridge. “They were using crazy glue! The heat from lighting up produced a bi-product similar to cyanide. This was an obvious problem.” Other companies were using something that had high mercury content and some were producing their own liquid solution with 18 milligrams of nicotine that had cross contamination. Needless to say, there were a lot of problems to iron out.

Another issue was that there was no labelling of the ingredients in the flavoured liquid. Some factories were using Diethylene Glycol as a cheap flavour alternative, which is found in anti-freeze. “When we approached them on it their answer was to change the information on the MSDS (Manufacturing Safety Data Sheet) which includes the ingredients. They were willing to deceive the public.” Mr. Mohamedali was outraged. Consequentially, Smoke NV analyzed all of the product components in order to see what other corners may have been cut in order to protect profit. They met with every single supplier along the chain of production, uncovering a number of other shockers.

Smoke NV next commissioned battery testing from UN 38.3, a third party, internationally recognized company that tests batteries on eight different levels to assure their safety for the consumer market. A lot of other battery manufacturers were not going through this test, and were making the cheapest batteries for the e-cigarette. Among these producers, in the last two years there have been at least a dozen cases of batteries exploding in the charger or in someone’s mouth. Border services did not recognize that the products even contained batteries, so they were distributed across the globe unabated. Smoke NV took the leadership to ensure batteries were certified and tested properly.

The company initially sourced its flavoured liquid formula from a company in Europe. The liquid was shipped to Asia where the whole product was assembled and packaged before being shipped to Canada, but the wait time for all of the shipping proved too long to keep pace with Smoke NV’s rapid growth. “So we had a think-tank and found a Japanese company that had contracts for 7-Up and Sprite making flavours. We knew that there was due diligence, and they were GMP certified. They also did not deal with nicotine, or non-food group chemicals. After signing a contract with them, we are saving about four to six weeks of time to get the product to us.”

Unlike tobacco companies whose involvement in the e-cigarette industry stems from a desire to maintain market share, Smoke NV has come into the industry from a medical standpoint. Countries such as Canada, Australia and others in the Middle East have banned e-cigarettes because of the nicotine they contain and over concerns that they should be considered a Natural Health Product, which would be the same classification as governs Nicorette gum or nicotine patches. Mr. Mohamedali emphasizes Smoke NV’s cooperation with regulators, stating, “we feel that it should be regulated to the point where it’s deemed safe for consumers.”

Mr. Mohamedali sees e-cigarettes as being very similar to the energy drink industry ten years ago. “When this industry started there were many players bringing in energy drinks, not realizing the harm it was causing to children and how it was causing heart attacks, etc. At that point the industry began to be regulated. It is very similar to what our industry is presently going through. So we want to be the gold standard in two ways,” he explains. “One, we are using a patented technology which will change the way that the e-cigarette is produced by regulating the heat of the atomizer, for example. Two, we are engaging in clinical trials in order to get evidence published in medical journals.” These trials, underway at the University of Alberta, will help the company answer all of the outstanding questions from government and health regulators. Smoke NV hopes that its device can be classified as a pharmaceutical product as a result.

There are two parts to the clinical trials. First, Pharmacokinetics analyzes where the product is being absorbed in the bloodstream, providing better context to understand how it can help someone who is trying to stop smoking. Second, consumers take part in a fixed month cessation program to help determine how the product should be used, providing a regimen to help them quit.

A lot of Smoke NV’s plans for expansion are contingent upon the results of the trials. “We are on board with the Canadian government’s requirements as well as those in agreeance around the world that this product should not be sold with nicotine. So our market will be in Australia, Canada, U.A.E and South America. We recently started working with the Hong Kong government with approval to sell there as well. Really for us it’s about contacting the health agencies in those jurisdictions so that they understand exactly what we are trying to achieve.”

Aside from the obvious health benefits of smoking cessation, the product will also benefit consumers’ wallets. The Smoke NV website provides prospective customers a way of calculating the savings they’ll achieve by switching from cigarettes to the company’s product. If the average carton of cigarettes runs between $80 and $100, then the e-cigarettes would cost approximately half of that for the same amount of cartridges. While the disposable model is slightly more expensive than the reusable prototype, the overall savings remain significant.

Smoke NV’s e-cigarette can also be combined with other smoking cessation products to the consumer’s benefit. “We are training pharmacists on the product so that they can better guide the consumer. We know that trying to quit is a two-part process – psychological and physiological. You could use the patch and our product without worrying about overdosing and being able to address both aspects of the habit.” Through the clinical trials, Smoke NV is looking for valid data that will prove the e-cigarette can increase the chances of successfully quitting smoking.

Everyday Smoke NV receives feedback from grateful clients. One is a sixty year old gentleman who recently suffered a heart attack. He has now gone 57 days without a cigarette, where previously he hadn’t gone more than ten days without a smoke since first starting. “Those are the types of things that really spin our engines, and give us a purpose as to what we are doing and why we are doing it. Those are the things that really speak to us because we can never get enough feedback from our customers in regards to how this has changed their lives.”

Smoke NV has gone through a number of trials (literally) and tribulations in order to produce its e-cigarette in the healthiest, most logical way without cutting corners. The company is also demonstrating to its competitors the value of careful, ethical planning and monitoring. This is clearly a company with a conscience. Mr. Mohamedali sums up what sets Smoke NV apart from other manufacturers, stating, “Obviously we are a business and profit means everything to a business, but not at the expense of harming people.”

August 16, 2017, 7:21 PM EDT

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