E-cigarettes have existed for about 30 years, but they didn’t get major attention until the early 2000s when Chinese-manufactured e-cigarettes hit the U.S. market. Since then, they’ve greatly increased in popularity, and now the tobacco companies are trying to get a piece of the action.
The tobacco industry, which once upon a time legally and proudly sold its products to millions of Americans, has undergone a lot of changes, many of them forced on it by law. Required warning labels, restrictions on advertising and lawsuits have forced Big Tobacco to more or less discourage people from buying its own products. When e-cigarettes came along, Big Tobacco undoubtedly saw them as a further threat to its existence. But a few years ago, the tobacco companies decided that e-cigarettes could hold the key to their future, if they could get in on the e-cigarette market too.
Lorillard bought out the popular e-cigarette brand Blu, but then RJ Reynolds took over Lorillard, and Blu was sold to a tobacco company in Europe. RJ Reynolds then launched its own e-cigarette, Vuse, which is now selling well in the United States.
British American Tobacco also has the Vype, and the MarkTen is a product of Altria, formerly Philip Morris. There’s also iQOS, a hybrid e-cigarette that’s being test marketed in Japan and other parts of the world.
While tobacco companies still represent only a small portion of the e-cigarettes on the market, they are clearly becoming more interested in getting into the vaping game. And with the money tobacco companies have compared to the many smaller companies that manufacture all the other e-cigarettes and personal vaporizers, it is likely that Big Tobacco will be able to corner the market on vaping soon.
The problem this presents is not only that it could wipe out smaller e-cigarette manufacturers, but that sometimes those e-cigarettes are better and quite possibly safer than what tobacco companies might create.
Take for example, the iQOS, which is not actually an e-cigarette but a hybrid cross between an e-cigarette and a real cigarette. It involves what Philip Morris calls a “tobacco stick” that is heated, rather than burned, to produce vapor. As far as health is concerned, this seems to be a step backward from e-cigarettes that contain no tobacco, yet Philip Morris parent company Altria is bound to use its financial resources to promote the iQOS to the top of the e-cigarette market. Tobacco companies can also afford the expensive testing process that the FDA now requires to allow vaping products to be sold, which means that in the near future, most all e-cigarettes available might be part of Big Tobacco.
The other problem with this is that nobody trusts Big Tobacco, and the reputation of e-cigarettes will suffer when they are linked to the tobacco companies. In the minds of many people, they already are. Some anti-smoking advocates have made misleading statements that talk of the e-cigarette industry and the tobacco industry as if they are one and the same. For years, this has definitely not been the case, but now that tobacco companies are entering the e-cigarette market, vaping will become even more suspect of not being any better than smoking.
There is much genuine science showing evidence that e-cigarettes are nearly 100 percent safer than tobacco cigarettes, but now tobacco companies are funding e-cigarettes research, which will give opponents reason to be suspicious. Certain entities, from pharmaceutical companies to governments trying to make up for lost cigarette tax dollars, may be sponsoring biased research of their own and looking for excuses to say that e-cigarettes are a bad thing. But when the public is presented with conflicting evidence, some sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry or the FDA and the other sponsored by Big Tobacco, who are people going to believe?
The battle against false statements and health scares about e-cigarettes is an uphill one, because it depends on people understanding the facts behind the headlines and the official government statements. Having the tobacco industry as a partner in the vaping community could make even more smokers quit cigarettes and switch to vaping, but it could also permanently marry cigarettes and e-cigarettes in the minds of everyone and spell doom for vaping completely.