For a product hardly anyone had heard of five years ago, they now seem to be on everyone’s lips. While much has been written regarding the safety of these products and their potential to either support or destroy efforts to reduce smoking rates, it’s timely to think about 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 international e-cigarette market is minuscule compared to traditional cigarettes and tobacco products. Euromonitor estimates the global e-cigarette market was worth US$3 billion in 2013.
Compare this towards the global tobacco market, one of the most valuable fast moving consumer goods industries, worth approximately US$800 billion – greater than 260 times how big the electronic cigarette market. This highly profitable tobacco market, outside China, is dominated and controlled by just five major players: Japan Tobacco International, Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International, and Altria/Philip Morris USA.
All the major global tobacco companies have a stake in the e-cigarette market, with most buying up independent e-cigarette companies.
Philip Morris International, known as PMI, is taking it a step further: along with recently purchasing UK e-cigarette company Nicocigs Ltd, it will likely be launching the e cig. Unlike e-cigs, which vapourise liquid nicotine, the HeatStick takes normal tobacco and heats it to 350 degrees Celsius to create a tobacco vapour.
PMI wants to introduce the Marlboro HeatStick in test markets in Japan and Italy later this year. Similar types of products were introduced inside the 1990s, but failed dismally when smokers rejected both the taste and lack of smoking satisfaction. PMI appears hopeful this latest generation of heat technology may well be more acceptable to smokers.
On the surface, it may look like the tobacco industry is simply buying up these firms before they be a major threat to its profits. Or perhaps, it sees a bright future for e-cigarettes and wishes to control the current market.
But considering the amount more profitable traditional cigarettes are than e-cigarettes, and the tobacco industry’s long and chequered corporate history, it’s important to question the other motivations they may have.
Tobacco advertising on tv is nearly universally banned, the tobacco-friendly states of Indonesia and Zimbabwe being two holdouts. This has been decades since a tobacco ad appeared on tv screens in the usa and United Kingdom. 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 beauty to market addictive products is very familiar territory for your tobacco industry. These types of campaigns contradict the tobacco industry’s pubic relations message that it is only thinking about selling e-cigarettes to adults who are unable to quit smoking.
Enhance the 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 could promote the usa$69 billion Marlboro brand by putting it on the HeatStick product.
E-cigarettes can also help the tobacco industry undo the results of policies who have seen cigarettes pushed away from social settings that kept people smoking. While smoking bans are principally about protecting people, especially workers, from secondhand smoke, they have got an extra positive benefit of reducing smoking rates.
Pushing to allow electronic cigarette use in pubs and restaurants means there is no have to quit, because whenever you can’t smoke, just use an e-cigarette instead. But, don’t forget to maintain smoking the actual stuff when you are able too.
Since acquiring electronic cigarette brands, not one tobacco company has stepped out of the way of tobacco control policy makers attempting to reduce smoking. The business has not yet raised a white flag and consented to no longer oppose effective tobacco control policy reform.
It really is business as always: oppose, lobby and litigate when countries implement laws that effect on cigarette sales. Which explains why the international treaty to reduce tobacco use, the entire world Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, is explicit in banning tobacco industry influence in tobacco control policy. Getting a “fundamental and irreconcilable conflict arzalp interest” in between the industry and public health means the market 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. When it can point to e-cigarettes as “proof” it cares about consumers and is also working to reduce tobacco harms, then maybe it will no longer be shut from the regulatory process. Regardless of that e-cigarettes 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 within the utility of e-cigarettes in cutting the harms of tobacco use. The less attention paid towards the deadly US$800 billion arm from the business the higher.