For a product hardly anyone had heard of 5 years ago, they now seem to be on everyone’s lips. While much has been written concerning the safety of such products and their potential to either support or ruin efforts to reduce smoking rates, it’s timely to consider 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 e-cigarette industry is minuscule compared to traditional tobacco products. Euromonitor estimates that the global e-cigarette market was worth US$3 billion in 2013.
Compare this for the global tobacco market, probably the most valuable fast moving consumer goods industries, worth approximately US$800 billion – greater than 260 times the dimensions of 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 will have a stake in the electronic cigarette market, with most buying up independent e-cigarette companies.
Philip Morris International, referred to as PMI, is taking it a step further: in addition to recently purchasing UK e-cigarette company Nicocigs Ltd, it will 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 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 within the 1990s, but failed dismally when smokers rejected both the taste and lack of smoking satisfaction. PMI appears hopeful this latest generation of warmth technology could be more acceptable to smokers.
On the surface, it might appear to be the tobacco industry is simply buying up these firms before they turn into a major threat to its profits. Or even, which it sees a bright future for e-cigarettes and wants to control the current market.
But considering just how much more profitable traditional cigarettes are than e-cigarettes, and the tobacco industry’s long and chequered corporate history, it’s vital that you question what other motivations they may 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 television screens in america and United Kingdom. But electronic cigarette marketing is 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 market addictive products is quite familiar territory for the tobacco industry. These kinds of campaigns contradict the tobacco industry’s pubic relations message that it is only thinking about selling e-cigarettes to adults who are not able to quit smoking.
Enhance 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 could promote the united states$69 billion Marlboro brand by putting it on the HeatStick product.
E-cigarettes may also help the tobacco industry undo the results 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 have an extra positive advantage of reducing smoking rates.
Pushing to permit e-cigarette use within pubs and restaurants means there is no must quit, because whenever you can’t smoke, simply employ an electronic cigarette instead. But, don’t forget to maintain 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 trying to reduce smoking. The industry has not raised a white flag and consented to no longer oppose effective tobacco control policy reform.
It is business as usual: oppose, lobby and litigate when countries implement laws that influence on cigarette sales. Which is why the international treaty to reduce tobacco use, the planet 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” in between the industry and public health means the market will not be a welcome stakeholder in formulating public health policy.
E-cigarettes really are a potentially useful tool in giving the tobacco industry a seat back at the policy table. When it can point out e-cigarettes as “proof” it cares about consumers and is attempting to reduce tobacco harms, then perhaps it will no longer be shut out of the regulatory process. Regardless of 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 within the utility of e-cigarettes in lessening the harms of tobacco use. The less attention paid towards the deadly US$800 billion arm of the business the greater.