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Why Does Big Tobacco Want Ecig Health Warnings?

By Tyler McCanus

Tuesday March 17, 2015
tobacco companies are displaying ecig health warnings which is ironic given their history of denial regarding cigarettes
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While e cigarette companies everywhere try to position themselves as the best vape product on the market, big tobacco is putting ecig health warnings on theirs.

If you take a look at the packaging from a MarkTen box or from that of a Vuse box you will find some pretty stern language. Both RJ Reynolds, who makes Vuse, and Altria, who makes MarkTen and purchased Green Smoke early last year, are taking the same tact.

This is so different from the path that Big Tobacco decided on in the decades of tobacco battles that it is surprising to say the least to see this type of behavior from them. Ecig health warnings from tobacco companies? Really! So, what gives?

Rather than having sudden pangs of guilt and a conscious for public health, the electronic cigarette health warnings can actually serve the needs of Altria and RJ Reynolds in different ways. When a MarkTen package contains the warning “Nicotine is addictive and habit forming, and is very toxic by inhalation, in contact with the skin, or if swallowed” it isn’t there to serve the consumer.

The exact same can be said for the front or back of a Vuse box when it reads “who have an unstable heart condition, high blood pressure, or diabetes; or persons who are at risk for heart disease or are taking medicine for depression or asthma.” This stuff sounds scary, but the funny thing is that it won’t really affect their sales. Both e cigarette companies know what all the experts say: customers just don’t read the warning labels anyway.

The Motives Behind Big Tobacco’s E-Cigarette Health Warnings

Big Tobacco charging more for cigarettes as e-cigs become more popularThis means that the strategy of Altria and RJ Reynolds is to further themselves through their MarkTen and Vuse ecig brands. First and foremost, they do this to cover their backsides, known in legal terms as their liability.

Both tobacco giants have been down the road of accusations and lawsuits for decades. In fact, one Big Tobacco lawsuit last year led to a $23.6 billion award to the plaintiff.

They must have learned that being smarter about how the advertise their products will lead to less problems in the future.

Secondly, this is also a way to try and beat other e cigarette companies through influence. By positioning themselves as “responsible” players in this growing industry, Altria and RJ Reynolds can frame their arguments for certain measures as being ones that protect the public as a whole.

This means that when they argue against “open” systems such as e cig tanks, they can claim it is for the safety of consumers. Of course we know that these open systems are potentially big competitors for the same customers that MarkTen and Vuse are fighting for, all trying to position theirs as the best e cig.

That may be a cynical angle from which to approach competition in the market, but it is a pretty smart one at that, isn’t it? These mammoth companies can claim to be transparent about the potential risks of their products, while at the same time marketing theirs over others.

This was probably at least part of the reason that a spokesman for Altria described the warnings on their MarkTen packaging as part of “a goal to openly and honestly communicate about health effects.” You didn’t expect him to come out and say this is a way they can paint themselves as the good guys and still beat other e cigarette companies did you?

Some experts aren’t buying this new found innocence and it comes as no surprise. One of them is Dr Robert K. Jackler who researches cigarette and electronic cigarette advertising and serves as a professor at the Stanford School of Medicine. Dr. Jackler told the New York Times, “Is this part of a noble effort for the betterment of public health, or a cynical business strategy? I suspect the latter.”

We’re with Dr. Jackler on this one as it seems obvious even for us who don’t hold positions at a prestigious university. Printing ecig health warnings on all vapor product packaging is an interesting strategy that Altria and RJ Reynolds are putting into effect and one that we are sure to see more signs of. We can’t blame them for making the smart moves, but we’ll also be watching closely to see if they do succeed in stifling the evolution of a growing market. That is one side effect that we would seek to avoid at all costs.

Tyler,

Team ECCR

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