The story of Big Tobacco’s relationship with electronic cigarettes is a complicated one. From the beginning, there were conflicting interests when it came to the tobacco industry and vaping. That part is pretty obvious to anyone because, at its core, electronic cigarettes offered an opportunity for smokers to make the switch away from traditional tobacco cigarettes. That inherently meant a threat on Big Tobacco’s way of life and it’s revenue stream. Interestingly enough, they didn’t actually see it that way.
You see, when ecigs were first being introduced to America, they were a mere blip on the radar. Big Tobacco wasn’t worried about ecigs because they didn’t foresee how quickly the vaping revolution would take hold. In retrospect, it was only in their nightmares that they saw a product come along that could viably attract smokers. These smokers were, after all, addicted to nicotine. Yet that’s exactly what happened, and at a rapid pace. But if there is one thing Big Tobacco has always excelled in, it’s being able to take a bad situation for them and turning into a good one.
That’s exactly what they did, too. After putting a lot of money and effort into destroying electronic cigarettes, they realized it wasn’t possible. Vaping was already too loved by too many Americans, and with good reason. So they decided to enact a policy of “if you can’t beat em, join em!” This is when things became evermore complicated for the vaping revolution. Now this perennial enemy called Big Tobacco was buying up ecig companies. The little guy fighting the big bad corporation was no more. The times, as Bob Dylan famously sang, they were a changing.
Now, as with anything, there were pros and cons to this. Big Tobacco did bring a boatload of money with it and that money could be used to promote ecigarettes further. It could also be used to expand research and speed up technological advances of vapor products. All of this was good for vapor-lovers. Yet the stigma that Big Tobacco brought to the table left it’s own impact. Now, as the FDA begins to regulate electronic cigarettes, we are left with the same question. Is Big Tobacco hurting or helping the cause?
Big Tobacco Defends Vapor
In what would seem like a shocking turn of events only a few years ago, Big Tobacco is now roundly defending vapor. They also have the tools to do so. They’ve built armies of lobbyists and lawyers over the past century, not to mention relationships with highly influential figures in Washington. While this used to be a point of contention for ecig brands when they were fighting for their lives, now the tables have turned. Even the biggest of tobacco companies, Altria, has come out to stand up for vaping.
This has opponents of ecigs going bonkers, for lack of a better term. Representative Nita M. Lowey of New York is a good example. The high-ranking member of the House of Representatives was quoted by the New York Times saying, “For Congress to consider going backward in how we regulate the public health hazard is simply mind-boggling.” She also said it was embarrassing that over 70 lawmakers had signed up to be co-sponsors of a new bill that was basically written by Altria. She attacked Big Tobacco at their weakest point by saying, “It wasn’t that long ago that tobacco companies were telling the public that cigarettes were not addictive and denying clear evidence that they caused cancer.”
That’s the problem, wrapped into one quote by a politician. Due to Big Tobacco’s more than dubious history, getting backing by them has become a catch-22. The money and power can be very helpful, and this time it’s for a good cause, but it also opens you up to, well, being associated with Big Tobacco. That can be the death knell for a lot of industries. It’s not all their fault, though. The FDA has clearly been out to get vapor for a long time. Just take what Mitch Zeller, head of the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA, was quoted saying about the beginnings of the ecig industry:
“Companies were free to introduce any product they wanted, make any claim they wanted, and that is how we wound up with a 900 percent increase in high schoolers using e-cigarettes and as well as all these reports of exploding e-cigarette batteries and products that have caused burns and fires and disfigurement.”
Talk about a predisposition to seeing ecigs in a negative light, right? I mean, we know the connection between ecigs and teens is, at the very least, complicated (and not tied to teen smoking). We also know that the exploding ecig batteries problem primarily has to do with cheap ecigs. So why is the FDA not focused on the real problems instead of trying to suffocate the industry as a whole?
As with a lot of things, the answer to if Big Tobacco is hurting the cause is simply a mixed bag. They have the power to push forward legislation that could help against the FDA’s crusade over ecigs. They also come with the stigma that seems to energize the opponents of the vapor revolution. The answer may only be seen in retrospect, so in the meantime we’ll watch it closely and vape away.