Electronic cigarettes for sale at Foxwoods

Retail stores at Foxwoods Resort Casino and MGM Grand at Foxwoods may be among the first in the state to sell electronic cigarettes, devices that have been making inroads with the public despite questions about whether they're safe.

Cigotine, the Providence-based company that began offering its products at Foxwoods last month, also plans to start selling them next week from a kiosk inside Crystal Mall, the company's chief executive officer said Thursday. A spokesman for mall management confirmed the kiosk will open May 15.

Powered by batteries, e-cigarettes, as they're known, work by heating liquid nicotine to produce a mist, or vapor, that users inhale, satisfying their craving for the drug. While e-cigarette manufacturers say the devices are safer than real cigarettes because they produce no tar or other harmful chemicals, some governments and health organizations dispute such claims and note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the products.

The e-cigarette industry got a boost earlier this year, however, when a federal judge found the FDA should regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products rather than as drug-delivery or medical devices, and lifted a ban on the importation of e-cigarettes from China.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who vowed last year to fight retail sales of e-cigarettes, said Thursday their safety remains questionable. "We've warned consumers to be very wary of these products," he said. "We're continuing our investigation to determine what steps can and should be taken to protect the public."

Blumenthal, who said his office has received no complaints about e-cigarettes, has also advocated for an eventual outright ban on smoking at the state's tribally owned casinos, which currently limit smoking to certain gaming areas under agreements worked out with Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Foxwoods is selling Cigotine at three Foxwoods Resort Casino outlets — Pequot Trader, Outpost and Essentials - and at Grand Effects, the main retail shop in MGM Grand. Use of the devices is allowed throughout the property, "including all hotel rooms, casinos, restaurants, bars and music venues," Foxwoods said in a statement. Foxwoods executives were unavailable Thursday for further comment.

Casinos and other places subject to indoor smoking bans would appear to be promising targets for e-cigarette marketers.

"Casinos are down in revenues and smoking bans aren't helping," said Steve Bayonne, Cigotine's chief executive officer. "They're looking for an alternative that can keep people coming. They're definitely a market."

Bayonne said he approached Foxwoods several months ago and reached an agreement to wholesale his products to the casino, which sells them in its stores and supports the marketing of them.

The Foxwoods outlets sell two Cigotine products: a $129.95 "Deluxe Kit," which includes two rechargeable batteries, a battery charger and five nicotine-filled cartridges of varying strengths, and, for $14.95, a box of five cartridges - the equivalent, Bayonne said, of a carton of tobacco cigarettes. Cigotine's Crystal Mall kiosk will offer a wider array of products as well as free demonstrations and samples, he said.

Less than a year and a half old, Cigotine distributes its products in all 50 states, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Canada, a good portion of its sales taking place online, according to Bayonne. In some locations, bars and restaurants sell Cigotine products.

Mohegan Sun does not market or sell e-cigarettes, although officials there have discussed how they would treat them, according to Mitchell Etess, the casino's president and chief executive officer.

"We'd treat them like smoking," he said. "They could not be used in nonsmoking areas."

Etess said it would be too hard to distinguish e-cigarettes from real cigarettes because they are so similar in appearance.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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