For a product rarely anyone had heard of five-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 destroy efforts to lessen smoking rates, it’s timely to consider why the global 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 global e-cigarette marketplace is minuscule compared to traditional cigarettes and tobacco products. Euromonitor estimates that the global electronic cigarette market was worth US$3 billion in 2013.
Compare this to 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, away from 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 of the global tobacco companies have a stake in the electronic cigarette market, with many buying up independent electronic cigarette companies.
Philip Morris International, called PMI, has brought it one step further: as well as 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 create a tobacco vapour.
PMI wants to introduce the Marlboro HeatStick in test markets in Japan and Italy later this coming year. Similar kinds of products were introduced in the 1990s, but failed dismally when smokers rejected the taste and absence 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 market is simply buying up these firms before they be a major threat to its profits. Or even, that it sees a bright future for e-cigarettes and wants to control the marketplace.
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 what other motivations they might 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 the usa and Uk. But e-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 extremely familiar territory for that tobacco industry. These kinds of campaigns contradict the tobacco industry’s pubic relations message that it must be only interested in selling e-cigarettes to adults who are not able 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 could promote the usa$69 billion Marlboro brand by putting it on the HeatStick product.
E-cigarettes may also help the tobacco industry undo the effects 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 yet another positive benefit of reducing smoking rates.
Pushing to enable electronic cigarette use in pubs and restaurants means there is not any must quit, because whenever you can’t smoke, simply use an electronic cigarette instead. But, don’t forget to maintain smoking the real stuff when you can too.
Since acquiring e-cigarette brands, not one tobacco company has stepped taken care of of tobacco control policy makers trying to reduce smoking. The business has not yet raised a white flag and decided 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 planet 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” between the industry and public health means the market is not really a welcome stakeholder in formulating public health policy.
E-cigarettes are a potentially great tool in giving the tobacco industry a seat back on the policy table. If this can indicate e-cigarettes as “proof” it cares about consumers and it is trying to reduce tobacco harms, then perhaps it is going to no longer be shut out from the regulatory process. Regardless of that e-cigarettes certainly are a tiny portion of its total business.
Lastly, e-cigarettes really 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 on the utility of e-cigarettes in cutting the harms of tobacco use. The less attention paid to the deadly US$800 billion arm of the business the higher.