E-Cigarettes: British American Tobacco
British American Tobacco (BAT) has been in the e-cigarette business since 2013, initially in the UK, then in the US, with its acquisition of R.J. Reynolds and its parent company Reynolds American Inc. (RAI). By 2019 its main markets were the United Kingdom (UK), Europe, Canada and the United States (US), with further global expansion underway or planned.
It was one of the first tobacco companies to enter the e-cigarette market.
- 1 2012-2014: Acquisitions and Alliances
- 2 2015-2019: Acquired More Independent Companies
- 3 Key Brands And Markets
- 4 Lobbying on E-cigarettes
- 5 Claims of Helping Prevent Youth Vaping
- 6 Breached Advertising Regulations
- 7 2019: A New E-cigarette Sales Strategy?
- 8 An “Additive” Business
- 9 Business as Usual?
- 10 TobaccoTactics Resources
- 11 Notes
2012-2014: Acquisitions and Alliances
Planned Licenced Nicotine Products
In 2012, it appeared that BAT intended to submit its e-cigarette Nicodex (or a similar nicotine product Oxette) to the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to be classed as a medical product. Instead it developed an agreement with a UK company called Kind Consumer Limited to commercialise their nicotine inhaler, Voke. While BAT said this was their intention in 2014, it had stated in 2013 that “Alignment of e‑cigarettes to medicines would increase complexity and increase research and development costs, whilst reducing channel access.” BAT subsequently abandoned this plan and handed back all rights to Kind Consumer in 2019.
The Vype e-cigarette was developed by CN Creative, a British start-up company acquired by BAT in December 2012 for an estimated GB£30-50 million. When the product was launched, CN Creative was merged with BAT Research and Development and Nicoventures, which had been set up by BAT in 2011 to develop nicotine replacement therapy products.
"Our declared intent is to be the leading player in [the e-cigarette] business. The market is currently small and fragmented but showing movement, creating a buzz. [...] For us it’s a natural extension of where we are trying to go in harm reduction. We believe it will create profitable growth over time."
In the last two months of 2013, BAT spent GB£3.6 million on an advertising campaign for Vype called “Experience the Breakthrough”, involving press, digital and outdoor ad campaigns which aimed to build awareness of Vype as an alternative to smoking tobacco. BAT claimed that it used “responsible” TV and cinema advertising “aimed solely at adult smokers and users of other [medicinal] nicotine products”. Nigel Hardy, Head of UK and Ireland for BAT’s Nicoventures, said:
“In Vype we are creating a modern brand that we need to communicate in a way that really appeals to smokers. We’re not focusing on the product, we’re building a brand which will be here for the long term.”
In 2016, the UK introduced new restrictions on e-cigarette advertising, including TV and cinema. Consequently BAT, like other tobacco companies, has become more creative in its marketing. BAT has promoted Vype through collaborations with artists, designers (see Image 1) and celebrities (which has led to complaints, see below).
- For more on BAT’s advertising practices see E-cigarettes: Marketing
R. J. Reynolds Vapour Company and Vuse
When BAT bought RAI in 2017 it acquired R. J. Reynolds Vapour Company (RJRVC, a subsidiary of RAI) which had launched Vuse e-cigarettes in 2013. By 2015, Vuse was the leading e-cigarette brand in the US although it was overtaken by Juul in 2017 (see below).
2015-2019: Acquired More Independent Companies
CHIC in Poland
In December 2015, BAT bought CHIC, a Polish e-cigarette business with around 65% of the Polish market. Although the amount paid was not disclosed, BAT’s 2015 annual report gave a valuation of GB£82 million.
BAT saw Poland as a potential “hub” for entry into other markets in Eastern Europe. Kingsley Wheaton said that the acquisition of CHIC was “strategically significant” and provided “BAT with scale and market reach through Europe’s largest eCigarette [sic] retailing network, as well as important manufacturing and R&D capabilities". In 2019, BAT said that it had 636 retail outlets in Poland, a drop from 2015, but considerably more than the numbers in the UK and in Germany which had around 100 each. According to Euromonitor data, in 2018 Poland was by far BAT’s biggest European e-cigarette market by value, worth over UK£835 million (US$1 billion), four times the value in the UK (just over UK£200 million, US$250 million).
In October 2019, the Polish GoVype website was under construction, apparently ”due to new legal regulations”. The holding page contained a redirect to the CHIC Group website, eSmokingWorld, where non-BAT brands continued to be listed as part of the portfolio alongside Vype.
Ten Motives in the UK
In April 2016, BAT acquired another UK e-cigarette company, Ten Motives, whose existing brands at the time included Cirro and Aspire. Although the amount paid was not disclosed, BAT gave a valuation of GB£56 million in its 2018 annual report. This purchase, along with its other e-cigarette brands, helped BAT considerably expand its market share, and retail outlets, in the UK. By 2019, the Ten Motives website was promoting a range of BAT products (including Vype) alongside some independent brands. The ‘About Us’ section of the website contained statements about harm reduction but did not state that the company is owned by BAT (although references to Nicoventures and BAT can be found in the policy small print).
VIP in the UK
In July 2017, BAT acquired e-cigarette company VIP for GB£11.9 million from Must Have Ltd (MHL) GB, which faced closure due to its inability to meet a large tax bill. This enabled BAT to further expand its retail network in the UK. VIP products continued to be sold on its own website, although by 2019 the company was “fully integrated into the British American Tobacco UK business”. At the same time as buying VIP, BAT also acquired another e-cig company owned by MHL, Vapestick Group. This company had ceased trading by November 2018 and was dissolved in July 2019. Although some Vapestick cartridges were still on sale on the VIP website in 2019, by October the device was no longer available.
TWISP in South Africa
In December 2017, BAT announced its intention to buy the South African e-cigarette company Twisp, which would give the company a new local product and direct access to a large number of retail outlets in the country. The sale was blocked by the South African Competition Commission in 2018 as it was deemed anti-competitive. However in August 2019 BAT was given the go-ahead to complete the purchase. Wheaton said that Twisp’s retail presence in South Africa was “of strategic importance to our future; allowing us to develop direct-to-consumer relationships, gain substantial consumer insight and the ability to fast pilot and test new product lines from our New Category brands”.  For more information see South Africa- Country Profile.
High End Smoke in Germany
In November 2018, BAT acquired “Germany’s leading vapour retail chain”, Quantus Beteiligungs-und Beratungsgesellschaft mbH. In 2019 the company’s website, ‘High End Smoke’ sold a range of Vype products and a number of independent brands.
Key Brands And Markets
From 2014 BAT developed and launched a range of products under the Vype and Vuse brand names. It also discontinued some existing Vuse products after acquiring Reynolds.
- For a detailed list of products see E-Cigarettes: BAT's Vype and Vuse
In 2015, BAT launched Vype in France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Colombia (under a subsidiary Vype Colombia) which the company claimed gave them “the largest vapour business in the world outside of the US”. It subsequently also expanded its e-cigarette business within the US, with Vuse, after the acquisition of RAI in 2017. Further launches in 2018 and 2019 expanded BAT’s market reach:
- December 2018 - Vype launched in New Zealand, after the removal of a ban on e-cigarette sales, with BAT’s marketing approach criticised for contravening tobacco control regulations (see below for details).
- February 2019 - Vype launched in Mexico. BAT declared itself the first international company to enter the e-cigarette market in the country. At the time there was a ban in place on the sale of e-cigarettes in Mexico. However there was also a sizeable ‘grey market’ in the country, with multiple websites and shops selling e-cigarettes. In October 2019 Catalina Betancourt, BAT Mexico’s Vice President Institutional Relations (Assuntos Institucionales), argued that regulation of e-cigarettes was a “necessity” in Mexico, rather than an outright ban, in order to protect consumers and prevent them from returning to smoking cigarettes. At the time BAT was already promoting and selling a range of Vype products on its own Mexican website in direct contravention of the Mexican ban. It also provided a search function for customers to find local retailers of BAT’s e-cigarette products.
- March 2019 - BAT announced plans to launch its e-cigarettes (and HTPs) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after the lifting of a national ban in April.
Seeking FDA Approval for Vuse
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires companies to submit a Premarket Tobacco Product Application (PMTA) for any new e-cigarettes they wish to sell. As a large number of products were coming onto the market without approval, the FDA stipulated that companies needed to submit applications for those already on the market as of 8 August 2016. As long as a PMTA was submitted within ten months the products could remain on sale and be marketed. BAT did not market Vuse Alto until late 2018, but BAT’s then Chief Executive Nicandro Durante claimed that it did not need to submit a PMTA for this product as it had been on the market before August 2016, although not widely available. In its 2018 annual report, BAT said that it would in fact be submitting a PMTA for Vuse. On 11 October 2019, the company announced that RAI had submitted a PMTA for Vuse and claimed to be the first US e-cigarette company to do so. The Wall Street Journal reported that the submitted PMTA related to Vuse Solo, and that BAT was planning more submissions. Ricardo Oberlander, RAI CEO, said in a press release at the time: “We continue to support the FDA’s efforts to create, implement and enforce a science and rule-based regulatory regime to protect the public health”.
In 2018, Euromonitor International put BAT’s share of the global e-cigarette market (by value) at 4.4%, slightly down from 4.5% in 2017 (while JUUL Lab’s share had risen significantly from 4% to 18.6% over the same period). By mid-2019, BAT stated that its e-cigarettes were sold in 20 countries. Europe (particularly the UK, France, Germany and Poland) and the US, are key markets for BAT’s e-cigarettes.
In June 2019, BAT reported that the market share for its flagship brand Vype was 11.6% in the UK and 17.3% in France. (Overall the UK e-cigarette market is three times bigger than the French market). Vype’s share of the significant Polish market was not specified. The Vype ePen3 in particular was credited with bringing in high revenues for the company in Western Europe.
In the UK in 2018, BAT claimed that its e-cigarettes had the biggest share of the market; at 41%, with Imperial Tobacco at 16%, Japan Tobacco International at 10%, JUUL Labs at 4%, and Philip Morris International at 3%. According to Euromonitor international, BAT was facing “growing competition” in the UK, including from JUUL Labs. By June 2019, BAT said that its UK market had fallen to 39%.
Bowles reported in July 2018 that e-cigarettes were more significant for BAT than its heated tobacco products in the US: “the market in the US is already very strong in terms of new categories and the leading categories are by far e-cigarettes for sure where our performance is improving”. In 2019, BAT reported that Vuse had 14% of the US market, with Vuse Alto (along with the relaunched Vibe, see Image 2) driving growth, and “narrowing the gap” with JUUL.
Lobbying on E-cigarettes
In the US BAT/RAI spent US$2.25 million on lobbying in 2017 and over US$2.6 million 2018. While it is not possible to see what proportion was spent on lobbying specifically on e-cigarettes, in the company’s report to the FDA in July 2019, four bills were listed which related specifically to e-cigarettes or youth vaping. Between 2017 and 2019 the company had contracts with multiple US lobbyists including Ballard Partners, BGR Group and Guidepost Strategies.
In 2018, BAT unsuccessfully lobbied the Government of Western Australia to overturn a ban on e-cigarettes. In Australia nicotine is classified as a poison and can only be sold with a specific permit. As of 2019, no tobacco company had applied for a permit for their e-cigarettes. In response to federal-level lobbying from tobacco companies and their allies, the Australian government did agree to commission an independent study on e-cigarettes.
In the UK, BAT is a member of the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA), which has lobbied on behalf of BAT in the UK. This organisation is closely linked to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Vaping (previously ‘for E-Cigarettes’) a group which has provided a lobbying platform for BAT in the UK Parliament. BAT was also invited to speak to the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee which submitted a “controversial” report on e-cigarettes to the government in August 2018.
In September 2019 BAT (via its subsidiary Imperial Tobacco Canada) helped set up a similar trade organisation in Canada, the Canadian Vaping Trade Association (VITA). Founding members include JUUL Labs Canada and Japan Tobacco International (JTI), along with two independent e-cigarette companies. Each have committed to contributing $100,000 dollars annually for three years. The organisation says that it aims “to represent and support the Canadian vaping industry in advocating for harm reduction, youth prevention, evidence-based regulations, best in class quality and safety standards”. However it appears that its main goal is to lobby against proposed legislation.
Claims of Helping Prevent Youth Vaping
Publicised Own Age Verification Schemes
Between June and September 2018, the FDA issued warning letters and penalties to retailers found to have sold e-cigarette products to children. In September 2018, the FDA also sent a letter to RAI (along with JUUL Labs, Altria, Fontem Ventures and JTI), giving the company 60 days to provide a written plan to “address the rate of youth use of Vuse products”. BAT’s Annual Report indicated that RAI submitted its plan to the FDA on 9 November 2018.
In March 2019, BAT/RAI announced “additional efforts to prevent potential youth access to tobacco products, including vapor products”, alongside the announcement of the launch of a national television advertisement for Vuse Alto. According to the company these efforts included new “purchase limits” on the Vuse website, in addition to an “already robust third-party age verification process.” It also referred to the “We Card” age verification system, set up by Reynolds in 1996.
In September 2019, just after the FDA announced further action against JUUL Labs and the start of investigations into medical cases and deaths thought to relate to vaping in the US, BAT released a statement “in support of robust quality standards and the need for youth access prevention measures in the United States”. Wheaton said that BAT had “stringent measures in place” to protect children, while also claiming that:
“it is hard to overestimate the role that the responsible marketing of flavours plays in helping adult consumers move on from combustible products to alternative tobacco and nicotine products.” 
Used UK Parliamentary Group as Promotional Platform
In February 2019, BAT used a meeting of the UK APPG for Vaping to launch their age verification scheme “BAT Verify” and to announce a “whistleblowing hotline” to report retailers selling e-cigarettes to under-18s. Gemma Webb, BAT’s General Manager UK & Ireland, said that this scheme was “further demonstration of our strong commitment to preventing youth vaping”, adding:
“I am pleased we have been given the opportunity to discuss this important issue with Members of Parliament. All e-cigarette producers have a role to play in preventing young people from accessing nicotine containing products and at BAT UK we continue to have strict vetting of our marketing communications and are working closely with retailers to improve the processes and checks around sales.”
It is not clear whether this scheme progressed. In August 2019 there was no reference to the scheme on the website or in their latest annual report. The same month the company was criticised for using young people in marketing on social media (see below).
For more information see All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Vaping (E-Cigarettes).
Breached Advertising Regulations
In 2019, a complaint was made to the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and ASH regarding the promotion of Vype via social media. It argued that this activity, including the UK pop singer Lily Allen promoting the Vype e-Pen3 via Instagram, appealed directly to young people and therefore breached advertising regulations. In December 2019, the ASA upheld two of the three complaints against BAT and said that the company must remove all existing advertising from Instagram. It also banned it from using any accounts, including those of influencers, to promote e-cigarettes in the UK.
Complaints by Johnson & Johnson (a multinational company selling healthcare and consumer products, including Nicorette nicotine replacement products) have also led to ASA rulings against BAT. In January 2020, descriptions used by BAT on the Vype website were found to contain “descriptive promotional language” rather than factual statements, and to have therefore breached the UK advertising code for e-cigarettes. The company was told to amend its Vype website and social media. BAT’s promotional phrases mixed references to tobacco with words associated with sweets and fruit, or made comparisons to other products including coffee and alcohol: “a mix of golden tobacco notes with a hint of caramel”; “Honeydew delivers an authentic honeydew melon flavour”; “A Burley-style dark tobacco blend, complemented with caramel, cocoa and roasted coffee notes”; “the aroma of rum, blended with notes of vanilla and a hint of spice”; “A lightly smoked whisky inspired flavour with vanilla nuances. BAT was also forced to removed its “Subscribe and Save” service as it was found by the ASA to be an “incentive to purchase”. . In 2018, BAT was forced to remove phrases such as “Peach Swirl”, “fresh menthol tones and fruity notes” and “delivering rich vapour at the click of a button”, as well as claims that the product could be trusted. In 2017 the company was forced to withdraw a music video on the Vype website which used the promotional phrase “Vaping Rocks”.
Globally, BAT continues to promote its product via social media. According to Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, despite its own internal marketing policies, BAT has paid influencers aged under 25 to promote Vype on social media.” According to the campaign group:
”BAT currently uses social media to promote Vype in more than a dozen countries including France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Canada, Ireland and Colombia. The global ad campaign uses hashtags like #teretoaprobarlo (#idareyoutotryit) and captions like “feeling Vype AF” to promote Vype in thousands of posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.”
In 2018, after a relaxation of the law to allow the sale of e-cigarettes, BAT began heavily marketing the Vype ePen3 in New Zealand, focussing on young adults via brand alliances, event sponsorship and the use of social media influencers. BAT were criticised for contravening New Zealand’s tobacco control regulations.
2019: A New E-cigarette Sales Strategy?
BAT reported that the value of its total global e-cigarette sales increased by 26% in 2018 and 58% in the first half of 2019. In mid-2018, BAT had claimed that revenue from sales of all products in their “Potentially Reduced Risk Products” (PRRP) category, including HTPs, would rise by “30-50%” in the next year.
It appears that BAT’s Next Generation Products (NGP) business was not growing as fast as expected, as a year later it had only achieved growth of 27%. However, it still claimed it was “on track to deliver” 58% by the end of 2019.
In August 2019, BAT announced that it aimed to “slim down” the NGP portfolio and “focus on fewer stronger brands”, specifically Vuse and glo (its HTP). Jack Bowles, BAT CEO, said that this process of consolidation would be completed by the end of 2020 and would see Vype “migrating” to the Vuse brand portfolio. A month later BAT announced that it would be cutting 2,300 jobs, including 20% of senior roles, reportedly to help it re-invest in its vaping business.
Developing Consumer Relationships and Collecting Customer Data
In July 2019 BAT announced that it would be moving to a “direct-to-consumer model” with Chief Technical Officer, Nick Giannakakis, saying
"We want the consumer to be part of our community hub, to have an omni-channel experience at every touchpoint with us, and technology is a key enabler for that".
In 2019, the UK Vype website featured descriptions of the full product range, ‘news’ items (including where to vape at [[Motorsport Sponsorship|motorsports events]) and advice on “how to vape”, illustrating the company’s aim of developing a long term relationship with Vype users:
“Newcomers to vaping are best concentrating on the art of inhaling and exhaling vapour in the correct amounts, getting used to the way their e-cigarette works, and figuring out which e-juices they like the best. There’s plenty of time in the future to explore other styles of vaping, such as stealth and sub ohm, (blowing out clouds of vapour).”
‘Traditional’ Stores and Online Price Promotions
In 2019, BAT said that the ‘traditional retail’ channel (i.e. supermarkets and convenience stores) was expected to grow, at the expense of “dedicated vape shops”. The company had experimented with a concept store for the Vype Pebble in 2018. In July 2019, BAT made trademark applications for “Vype Inspiration Store” in the EU and “Vuse Inspiration Store” in the US. It is not clear if these stores were intended primarily to sell e-cigarettes, as both trademark applications also covered the sale of tobacco products. BAT also used a traditional style of price promotion such as 10% coupons for Vype in the UK, and heavily discounted Vuse power packs at US99 cents (usually US$25). It also promoted Vuse Alto with discount coupons inserted in its Camel Crush cigarette packets.
An “Additive” Business
BAT documents clearly show that profits from e-cigarettes are additional to BAT’s core business and do not simply replace revenue lost from falling sales of cigarettes. In 2018, BAT described the e-cigarette part of the business as “additive”, with Kingsley Wheaton, then BAT’s Managing Director Next Generation Products, reporting that in the UK it had become more profitable than its conventional cigarette business. According to Wheaton, in 2017 e-cigarettes generated a £95 annual margin per vaper, compared to the £78 margin generated by a conventional smoker.
BAT data showed an increase in nicotine users from 345 million in 2012 to 362 million in 2017, in its markets outside the US (see Image 3). The figure had been falling steadily from 2007 as people gave up smoking, indicating that e-cigarette products were at least partially responsible for the growth in the number of people in the “nicotine consumer pool” since then.
The company stated that the “consumer pool” for e-cigarettes doubled between 2014 and 2018, the value of this market increased 2.5 times, and that its revenue from e-cigarettes increased by 30% in 2018 alone.
“New Entrants” and “Poly Users”
In March 2019, BAT stated that growth in its NGPs being driven by new consumers of nicotine products, with 58% of the growth in e-cigarettes attributed to “new entrants” and only 42% to people switching from “combustibles”.
BAT’s own research indicates that the majority (65-70%) of smokers continued to smoke as well as vape, using e-cigarettes on “new occasions” where they are not able to smoke cigarettes, for example in the workplace, restaurant or car. According to BAT, this ability to vape where other people are present meant that “moments are being regained through poly usage” (see Image 4).
Business as Usual?
Even with the additional profits from e-cigarettes, BAT’s traditional tobacco products remain the key driver for the business. Its 2018 Annual Report states:
“As we develop new and potentially reduced-risk product categories, our conventional cigarette business remains strong and continues to grow. This enables us to invest in the development of better and more innovative products, while continuing to deliver strong results and dividends to our shareholders.” 
In October 2018, Ricardo Oberlander, President and CEO of RAI, said that in the US “the Vapour category is small relative to the tobacco market and is having a minimal impact on cigarette volumes”.
- E-Cigarettes: BAT's Vype and Vuse
- E-Cigarettes: Altria
- E-Cigarettes: Philip Morris International
- E-Cigarettes: Japan Tobacco International
- E-Cigarettes: Imperial Tobacco
- JUUL Labs
- Harm Reduction
- Product Innovation
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