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 regarding the safety of these products and their potential to either support or ruin efforts to lessen smoking rates, it’s timely to think about why the global 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 industry is minuscule compared to traditional tobacco products. Euromonitor estimates 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 an estimated US$800 billion – a lot more than 260 times the size of the e-cigarette market. This highly profitable tobacco market, away from 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 within the e-cigarette market, with many buying up independent e-cigarette companies.
Philip Morris International, referred to as PMI, has taken it a step further: along with recently purchasing UK electronic cigarette company Nicocigs Ltd, it will likely be launching the ecigs. 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 sorts of products were introduced in 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 may seem like the tobacco market is simply buying up these companies before they be a major threat to the profits. As well as, that it sees a bright future for e-cigarettes and wishes to control the market.
But considering simply how much more profitable traditional cigarettes are than e-cigarettes, and the tobacco industry’s long and chequered corporate history, it’s essential to question what 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 United Kingdom. But electronic cigarette marketing is really a booming business within both countries with controversial television ad campaigns and celebrity endorsements.
Using celebrities, se.x, glamour, adventure, rebelliousness, youth and beauty to promote addictive products is very familiar territory for that tobacco industry. These types of campaigns contradict the tobacco industry’s pubic relations message that it is only interested in selling e-cigarettes to adults who are unable to quit smoking.
Increase the simple fact that PMI cannot 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 can also help the tobacco industry undo the consequences of policies which have seen cigarettes pushed out of social settings that kept people smoking. While smoking bans are principally about protecting people, especially workers, from secondhand smoke, they may have an extra positive benefit from reducing smoking rates.
Pushing to permit e-cigarette use within pubs and restaurants means there is not any need to quit, because whenever you can’t smoke, just use an electronic cigarette instead. But, don’t forget to help 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 business has not yet raised a white flag and agreed to no longer oppose effective tobacco control policy reform.
It is business as always: oppose, lobby and litigate when countries implement laws that influence on cigarette sales. Which explains why the worldwide treaty to minimize 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” between the industry and public health means the business is not really a welcome stakeholder in formulating public health policy.
E-cigarettes certainly are a potentially great tool in giving the tobacco industry a seat back in the policy table. If this can point out e-cigarettes as “proof” it cares about consumers and is trying to reduce tobacco harms, then perhaps it can not be shut out from the regulatory process. No matter that e-cigarettes are a tiny part of its total business.
Lastly, e-cigarettes 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 on the utility of e-cigarettes in lessening the harms of tobacco use. The less attention paid towards the deadly US$800 billion arm from the business the better.