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Does Big Tobacco See E-Cigs As A Backup Plan?

By Tyler McCanus

Tuesday September 8, 2015
plan b for tobacco companies is vaping

We all know that when e cigarette brands began popping up on American shores, Big Tobacco giants Altria, RJ Reynolds, and Lorillard were not too happy. Here was a product that could siphon away their already shrinking customer base, and it turns out it could do it in a hurry.

While their first reactions were to fight tooth and nail to have these fake cigarettes outlawed, losing that battle meant they needed to compete. Fast forward a few years later and the e-cig landscape is littered with Big Tobacco e cigarette brands like MarkTen, Vuse and Blu eCigs.

Despite the push to get into this market, the entrance of Big Tobacco into our industry has always been viewed with a heaping dose of skepticism. After all, most of us have been fighting the idea that the big three of Altria, RJ Reynolds, and Lorillard deserved to have a stranglehold over nicotine users.

The advent of the electronic cigarette shattered that irrefutable fact forever by giving smokers an alternative address for their nicotine needs. They could now find a reasonable option in these sort of “fake cigarettes” that would obviously threaten the dominance of those huge tobacco corporations.

Then the first shoe dropped. Lorillard went out and bought one of the bigger e cigarette brands at the time; Blu eCigs. RJ Reynolds would follow up by creating Vuse, their in-house e-cigarette project that has now gone national. The last of the three to get into the market was Altria, which eventually developed and launched their MarkTen product, as well as surprisingly purchasing the well-established online brand Green Smoke.

All of this makes us think that Big Tobacco is fully on the e-cig bandwagon, even if market forces forced them onto it. But are these cigarette makers really in to develop the e-cig market or is all of this just an expensive backup plan?

Big Tobacco eCig Warnings Self Serving

tobacco companies are displaying ecig health warnings which is ironic given their history of denial regarding cigarettesThat big question is one that has been raised since the first move by Lorillard to purchase Blu eCigs. After railing against these new, so-called fake cigarettes, would these mammoth conglomerates really ever look at for the little guy, their consumer?

Their pretense is that they have turned over a new leaf and changed their ways. No more lying to the public says Big Tobacco. But what is the real meaning behind their ecig warnings?

One way they say they can do that is providing full disclosure about e-cigarettes. In fact MarkTen has a 116 word long warning on their packaging. It says that nicotine is “addictive and habit-forming, and it is very toxic by inhalation, in contact with the skin, or if swallowed.” The Altria owned company also points out that “Nicotine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and cause dizziness, nausea and stomach pain” and that the ingredients in their product can be “poisonous.”

One might see that as a very thorough way of informing the public as to the dangers of their product, which is a 180 from how they acted in the face of tobacco cigarette concerns in the 70s. Yet such a stern warning could do more than advise the consumer, it could turn them off. As Oliver Kershaw, a former smoker who made the switch to e-cigs, noted “if you read that (warning) as a smoker, you might think ‘Oh, I’ll just stick with a cigarette’.” Is that the intent of Big Tobacco, to keep their customers coming back to the “real thing” of tobacco cigarettes?

The problem is that we don’t really know and we may never know. An Altria Client Services spokesperson claimed that because there is no required warning for e cigarette brands currently, they had “do what we thought was right.” If you don’t burst into laughter after hearing a tobacco spokesperson say that, you miss the deep irony. Big Tobacco companies like Altria and RJ Reynolds can claim up and down that they are looking out for the public, but we’ve all heard that before. We know they are only looking out for themselves and the almighty dollar.

That fact, more than anything else, will always make us wary as to the real intentions of Big Tobacco getting into the e-cig market. Do they truly see the future in e-cigs? Or are they only in to make sure they have a backup plan? Because the way they are treating this fantastic innovation so far makes us think that they’re more interested in covering their own behinds than helping smokers with the viable alternative the is the electronic cigarette.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time they put their profits ahead of the good of smokers, and we would be surprised if it’s the last. Call us skeptics, but we’re going to remain cautious of the entry of Big Tobacco into the e-cig industry, at least until they give us reason not to.



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