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For a product rarely anyone had heard of 5 years ago, they now seem to be on everyone’s lips. While much has been written regarding the safety of such products and their potential to either support or destroy efforts to reduce smoking rates, it’s timely to consider why the worldwide tobacco industry has taken such a keen interest in 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 cigarettes and tobacco products. Euromonitor estimates the global e-cigarette market was worth US$3 billion in 2013.

Compare this for the global tobacco market, one of the most valuable fast moving consumer goods industries, worth an estimated US$800 billion – a lot more 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 will have a stake inside the e-cigarette market, with many buying up independent electronic cigarette companies.

Philip Morris International, referred to as PMI, has brought it one step further: in addition to recently purchasing UK electronic cigarette company Nicocigs Ltd, it will be launching the ecig supply. 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 season. Similar kinds of products were introduced within the 1990s, but failed dismally when smokers rejected the taste and insufficient smoking satisfaction. PMI appears hopeful this latest generation of warmth technology may well be more acceptable to smokers.

On the surface, it might appear to be the tobacco sector is simply buying up these companies before they be a major threat to its profits. Or perhaps, 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, as well as the tobacco industry’s long and chequered corporate history, it’s vital that you question the other motivations they could 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 Uk. But electronic cigarette marketing is a booming business both in 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 the tobacco industry. These kinds of campaigns contradict the tobacco industry’s pubic relations message that it must be only considering selling e-cigarettes to adults who are unable to stop smoking.

Enhance 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 united states$69 billion Marlboro brand by putting it on the HeatStick product.

E-cigarettes may also assist the tobacco industry undo the results of policies that 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 yet another positive benefit of reducing smoking rates.

Pushing to allow e-cigarette utilization in pubs and restaurants means there is not any need to quit, because whenever you can’t smoke, just use an e-cigarette instead. But, don’t forget to keep smoking the actual stuff when you can too.

Since acquiring e-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 raised a white flag and consented to no more oppose effective tobacco control policy reform.

It is actually business as usual: oppose, lobby and litigate when countries implement laws that effect on cigarette sales. Which is the reason the worldwide treaty to minimize 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” between the industry and public health means the market is not really a welcome stakeholder in formulating public health policy.

E-cigarettes certainly are a potentially useful tool in giving the tobacco industry a seat back at the policy table. If it can point to e-cigarettes as “proof” it cares about consumers and it is working to reduce tobacco harms, then maybe it can no longer be shut out from the regulatory process. Irrespective of that e-cigarettes really are a tiny percentage of its total business.

And lastly, e-cigarettes certainly are a huge distraction to tobacco control advocates and policy makers. Without doubt 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 to the deadly US$800 billion arm from the business the higher.

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