For a product barely anyone had heard of 5 years ago, they now seem to be on everyone’s lips. While much has been written about the safety of these products and their potential to either support or ruin efforts to reduce smoking rates, it’s timely to consider why the worldwide tobacco industry has taken such a keen desire for buying electronic cigarette companies.
Despite e-cigarettes seemingly dominating public and academic debate on tobacco control, the worldwide electronic cigarette market is minuscule in comparison to traditional cigarettes and tobacco products. Euromonitor estimates that the global e-cigarette market was worth US$3 billion in 2013.
Compare this towards the global tobacco market, just about the most valuable fast moving consumer goods industries, worth approximately US$800 billion – more than 260 times how big the e-cigarette market. This highly profitable tobacco market, outside of China, is dominated and controlled just by five major players: Japan Tobacco International, Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International, and Altria/Philip Morris USA.
Virtually all of the global tobacco companies have a stake in the electronic cigarette market, with many buying up independent e-cigarette companies.
Philip Morris International, known as PMI, has brought it one step further: along with recently purchasing UK e-cigarette company Nicocigs Ltd, it will probably be launching the where to buy e cigs. Unlike e-cigs, which vapourise liquid nicotine, the HeatStick takes normal tobacco and heats it to 350 degrees Celsius to produce a tobacco vapour.
PMI plans to introduce the Marlboro HeatStick in test markets in Japan and Italy later this year. Similar sorts of products were introduced inside the 1990s, but failed dismally when smokers rejected the taste and insufficient smoking satisfaction. PMI appears hopeful this latest generation of warmth technology could be more acceptable to smokers.
On the surface, it may appear to be the tobacco industry is simply buying up these businesses before they turn into a major threat to its profits. As well as, it sees a bright future for e-cigarettes and wants to control the market.
But considering just how much more profitable traditional cigarettes are than e-cigarettes, and also the tobacco industry’s long and chequered corporate history, it’s essential to question how many other motivations they may have.
Tobacco advertising on tv is almost universally banned, the tobacco-friendly states of Indonesia and Zimbabwe being two holdouts. It really has been decades since a tobacco ad appeared on television screens in the United States and Great Britain. But e-cigarette marketing is actually a booming business in both countries with controversial television ad campaigns and celebrity endorsements.
Using celebrities, se.x, glamour, adventure, rebelliousness, youth and sweetness to promote addictive products is quite familiar territory for your tobacco industry. These sorts of campaigns contradict the tobacco industry’s pubic relations message that it is only interested in selling e-cigarettes to adults who are not able to give up smoking.
Add to the simple fact that PMI can no longer show packs of Marlboro on store shelves or splash the iconic red Marlboro chevron on Formula One cars, it can promote the usa$69 billion Marlboro brand by putting it on the HeatStick product.
E-cigarettes could also assist the tobacco industry undo the effects of policies that have seen cigarettes pushed from social settings that kept people smoking. While smoking bans are principally about protecting people, especially workers, from secondhand smoke, they may have yet another positive benefit from reducing smoking rates.
Pushing to allow e-cigarette use in pubs and restaurants means there is not any have to quit, because when you can’t smoke, simply employ an e-cigarette instead. But, don’t forget to keep smoking the true stuff when you can too.
Since acquiring electronic cigarette brands, not one tobacco company has stepped taken care of of tobacco control policy makers working to reduce smoking. The industry has not yet raised a white flag and agreed to no longer oppose effective tobacco control policy reform.
It is actually business as always: oppose, lobby and litigate when countries implement laws that effect on cigarette sales. Which is why the worldwide treaty to lessen tobacco use, the entire world Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, is explicit in banning tobacco industry influence in tobacco control policy. Choosing a “fundamental and irreconcilable conflict arzalp interest” in between the industry and public health means the industry is not a welcome stakeholder in formulating public health policy.
E-cigarettes really are a potentially great tool in giving the tobacco industry a seat back in the policy table. If this can point to e-cigarettes as “proof” it cares about consumers and is working to reduce tobacco harms, then perhaps it is going to no longer be shut from the regulatory process. Irrespective of that e-cigarettes really are a tiny part of its total business.
And finally, e-cigarettes certainly are a huge distraction to tobacco control advocates and policy makers. Undoubtedly the tobacco industry celebrates witnessing the debate and division among tobacco control colleagues over the utility of e-cigarettes in reducing the harms of tobacco use. The less attention paid towards the deadly US$800 billion arm of the business the higher.