For a product rarely anyone had been aware of five-years ago, they now appear to be on everyone’s lips. While much has been written about the safety of such products and their potential to either support or destroy efforts to minimize smoking rates, it’s timely to think about why the worldwide tobacco industry has taken such a keen desire for buying e-cigarette companies.
Despite e-cigarettes seemingly dominating public and academic debate on tobacco control, the worldwide e-cigarette market is minuscule compared to traditional tobacco products. Euromonitor estimates that the global electronic cigarette market was worth US$3 billion in 2013.
Compare this towards the global tobacco market, probably the most valuable fast moving consumer goods industries, worth an estimated US$800 billion – a lot more than 260 times how big the e-cigarette market. This highly profitable tobacco market, outside of 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.
Virtually all of the global tobacco companies now have a stake within the e-cigarette market, with most buying up independent e-cigarette companies.
Philip Morris International, known as PMI, has brought it a step further: along with recently purchasing UK electronic cigarette company Nicocigs Ltd, it will 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 coming year. Similar types of products were introduced inside the 1990s, but failed dismally when smokers rejected the taste and lack of smoking satisfaction. PMI appears hopeful this latest generation of heat technology will be more acceptable to smokers.
On the surface, it might appear to be the tobacco sector is simply buying up these businesses before they be a major threat to its profits. As well as, which it sees a bright future for e-cigarettes and wishes to control the current market.
But considering simply how much more profitable traditional cigarettes are than e-cigarettes, and also the tobacco industry’s long and chequered corporate history, it’s important to question how many other motivations they could have.
Tobacco advertising on television is almost 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 america and Uk. But electronic cigarette marketing is actually a booming business within 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 extremely familiar territory for your tobacco industry. These types of campaigns contradict the tobacco industry’s pubic relations message that it must be only thinking about selling e-cigarettes to adults who are unable to stop smoking.
Increase 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 may promote the usa$69 billion Marlboro brand by putting it on the HeatStick product.
E-cigarettes may also help the tobacco industry undo the consequences 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 additional positive benefit from reducing smoking rates.
Pushing to allow electronic cigarette use within pubs and restaurants means there is absolutely no need to quit, because when 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 trying to reduce smoking. The industry has not yet raised a white flag and consented to no more oppose effective tobacco control policy reform.
It is business as usual: oppose, lobby and litigate when countries implement laws that impact on cigarette sales. Which is the reason the worldwide treaty to lessen tobacco use, the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, is explicit in banning tobacco industry influence in tobacco control policy. Finding a “fundamental and irreconcilable conflict arzalp interest” between the industry and public health means the industry is not really a welcome stakeholder in formulating public health policy.
E-cigarettes really are a potentially great tool in giving the tobacco industry a seat back at the policy table. When it can indicate e-cigarettes as “proof” it cares about consumers and it is trying to reduce tobacco harms, then maybe it will not be shut from the regulatory process. No matter that e-cigarettes certainly are a tiny portion of its total business.
And lastly, e-cigarettes certainly are a huge distraction to tobacco control advocates and policy makers. No doubt the tobacco industry celebrates witnessing the debate and division among tobacco control colleagues over the utility of e-cigarettes in lessening the harms of tobacco use. The less attention paid for the deadly US$800 billion arm from the business the higher.