To secure the tobacco industry’s medium to long-term future, in light of growing tobacco regulations and a rapidly shrinking cigarette market, tobacco companies have been looking to develop and market so-called ‘Next Generation Products’ (NGPs), which include snus, e-cigarettes, and Heated Tobacco Products (HTPs).
This page gives an overview of tobacco companies’ interests in e-cigarettes, also known as electronic cigarettes or ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems), which have been acquired, developed and sold by tobacco companies since 2012. This page links to further pages giving more detailed information about each company’s products, market share and business strategy, including methods used to promote their products around the world. This page also points to examples of lobbying activity conducted by, and on behalf of, tobacco companies, in order to influence regulation around e-cigarettes. For answers to some frequently asked questions about e-cigarettes see E-cigarettes: The Basics
Research updates on, and analysis of, the potential health benefits/risks of e-cigarettes are outside the scope of Tobacco Tactics, as are products produced by independent companies without tobacco industry links.
- 1 Tobacco Companies Enter the E-Cigarette Market
- 2 Patent Claims
- 3 A Growing Market And Falling Shares
- 4 Marketing Strategies
- 5 Lobbying Regulators
- 6 Can E-Cigarettes Help Advance Public Health?
- 7 TobaccoTactics Resources
- 8 Relevant Links
- 9 Notes
Tobacco Companies Enter the E-Cigarette Market
Tobacco companies began buying existing e-cigarette brands, and developing their own e-cigarette products from 2012. At the time, the global e-cigarette market was highly fragmented and dominated by independent e-cigarette companies, with the Financial Times estimating in June 2013 that the market was worth $3 billion.
Tobacco companies were well placed to take advantage of this fast growing market, as they had established distribution points and the resources to cover the costs of marketing. They were also in a position to meet the financial and legal demands that would likely come with any future regulation of e-cigarettes.
In 2012 and 2013 there was a flurry of tobacco company investment in e-cigarettes, both in the United Kingdom (UK) and in the United States (US), a trend which continued in subsequent years.
- For a diagrammatic representation of the tobacco industry’s entry into the e-cigarette market see E-cigarettes: Industry Timeline.
By 2018, British American Tobacco (BAT), Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International (JTI), and to a lesser degree Philip Morris International (PMI), all had their own ‘flagship’ e-cigarette brands, and were expanding their global markets. In the same year, Altria bought a minority stake in US e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL Labs. Market research company Euromonitor International estimated that the e-cigarette market had grown from US$5 billion in 2013 to more than US$15 billion in 2018.
British American Tobacco
British American Tobacco (BAT) launched ‘Vype’ in July 2013. This e-cigarette was originally developed by CN Creative, a start-up acquired by BAT in December 2012 and later merged into Nicoventures. After forming a ‘strategic partnership’ with US tobacco company Reynolds American Inc (RAI) in 2014, BAT acquired the whole company and its ‘Vuse’ range of e-cigarettes in 2017. For more information, see RJ Reynolds. BAT went on to acquire more independent e-cigarette companies, and developed a range of products under the Vype and Vuse brands. As of mid-2019, BAT planned to consolidate the two brands as Vuse.
- For detailed information on BAT’s e-cigarettes and tactics see E-Cigarettes: British American Tobacco and E-Cigarettes: BAT's Vype and Vuse.
Lorillard was the third largest cigarette manufacturer in the US at the time it acquired the e-cigarette company ‘blu ecigs’ in 2012. In 2013, it entered the UK market by taking over ‘Skycig’, a leading independent brand, which was then rebranded as ‘blu ecigs’. When Reynolds acquired Lorillard in 2014, blu was sold to Imperial Tobacco to avoid antitrust concerns (see below).
- For more information see E-Cigarettes: Lorillard.
Imperial Tobacco's subsidiary Fontem Ventures acquired Dragonite in August 2013, previously owned by Hon Lik, the Chinese pharmacist who claims to have invented the e-cigarette. In July 2014, as part of Reynolds’s acquisition of Lorillard, Imperial bought blu. In February 2015, Imperial launched its own e-cigarette ‘Jai’ in Europe. However blu became Imperial’s flagship brand.
- For more on Imperial’s e-cigarettes and tactics see E-Cigarettes: Imperial Tobacco.
Japan Tobacco International
Japan Tobacco International (JTI) bought UK e-cigarette brand E-lites in June 2014 from Zandera. After acquiring US e-cigarette company ‘Logic’ in July 2015, E-Lites was rebranded as Logic, and this became JTI’s flagship brand.
- For more on JTI’s e-cigarettes and tactics see E-Cigarettes: Japan Tobacco International.
Philip Morris International
Philip Morris International (PMI) was the last of the international tobacco companies to enter the e-cigarette market. It announced in December 2013, that it was teaming up with Altria to market electronic cigarettes and other tobacco products it described as “reduced risk” . PMI gained the right to exclusively sell Altria's e-cigarettes outside the United States. In 2014, PMI acquired UK company Nicocigs, the owner of the ‘Nicolites’ brand. After rebranding ‘Nicolites’ as ‘Nicocig’, PMI went on to develop its own e-cigarette IQOS Mesh, which went on sale in the UK in 2018, alongside IQOS Heated Tobacco Products. However, PMI’s interests in e-cigarettes are relatively minor compared to its interests in HTPs.
- For more on PMI’s e-cigarettes see E-Cigarettes: Philip Morris International.
Altria launched ‘MarkTen’, produced by its subsidiary Nu Mark, in the US in 2014. Altria acquired independent US e-cigarette company Green Smoke in 2014. Both brands were discontinued in December 2018 and Altria announced that it had bought a 35% stake in market leader JUUL Labs.
In March 2014, Imperial Tobacco’s Fontem Ventures launched legal proceedings over patents in California against nine of its US rivals including the top three Lorillard's Blu Ecigs, NJOY and Logic, and BAT’s Nicoventures. According to the Financial Times the lawsuit showed that "big tobacco" was becoming increasingly aggressive in the battle for the fast-growing e-cigarette market: "patents are expected to play an increasingly crucial role as big tobacco companies vie with smaller rivals to gain market share."
E-cigarette company JUUL Labs filed multiple complaints of patent infringement in the US courts, in October and November 2018, mainly against companies in China and Uruguay. In December 2018, Altria acquired a 35% share in JUUL Labs, who subsequently dropped the infringement claims in April 2019.
The biggest markets by far remained the US (which grew from US$2.6 billion to US$6.8 billion ) and Western Europe (US$2.3 billion to US$5.2 billion ), with the UK the biggest single market in Europe. The value of the market in the Asia-Pacific region, while a quarter of the size of the US market, nearly doubled to US$1.4 billion. Growth was also rapid in some Eastern European countries, notably Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. Russia remained a sizeable market (although mainly for Chinese products). Markets in Latin America and Australasia, although significantly smaller, also doubled in value, while the market in the Middle East grew more slowly.
Market size is clearly affected by national rules and governing the sale of e-cigarette products. However, the existence of regulation restricting or banning the sale of e-cigarettes does not necessarily mean that tobacco company products are not available to purchase in a particular country (see for example BAT’s sales of Vype in Mexico).
In 2018, Euromonitor International put BAT’s share of the global e-cigarette market (by value) at 9.4% (in 2016, prior to its acquisition of RAI, it had been 3.4%). Imperial, JTI and PMI’s market share had all fallen since 2014 (see Table 1). PMI’s overall share was the lowest (0.3%) in 2018 with IQOS Mesh yet to register.
|BAT (including RAI from 2017)||1.6||2.9||3.4||11.0||9.4|
Table 1: Tobacco Company % Shares of the Global Market, by value, 2014-2018 (source Euromonitor International, 2019)
Between 2015 and 2018 tobacco companies lost a significant slice of the market to JUUL Labs, whose global share rose from 4% to 18.6% (see Table 1). In the US the rise of Juul was even more marked, with the company gaining share from both independent e-cigarette companies, and tobacco companies. Imperial and JTI both lost around half of their share between 2016 and 2018. Even after its acquisition of RAI in 2017, BAT’s share in the US fell by more than four percentage points in a year.
Tobacco companies use a wide range of marketing tactics to promote their products, ranging from traditional media advertising, price promotions and point of sale displays. However, as e-cigarette advertising has become more restricted companies have been forced to become more creative. Pop-up stores and events, music festivals and collaborations with artists (see Image 2) and designers have all been used to help market e-cigarettes, with widespread online promotion via social media, paid celebrities and influencers. This has led to the companies being criticised for targeting young people, rather than adult smokers looking to quit.
The same criticism has been levelled at JUUL Labs. In September 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wrote to JUUL Labs, Fontem Ventures (Imperial), Altria, Reynolds American Inc. (RAI) and JTI, giving the companies 60 days to provide a written plan to “address the rate of youth use” of their products.
Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), designed to protect public health policies from commercial and other vested interests, applies to the whole tobacco industry irrespective of the type of products they are attempting to sell. Tobacco companies are spending considerable amounts of time, effort and money lobbying decision-makers concerned with laws and regulations around e-cigarettes.
As with lobbying on tobacco products, tactics include:
- Direct lobbying of politicians and policy makers in formal meetings.
- Submissions to government consultations.
- Meetings and discussions at political and ‘social’ events (sometimes sponsored by tobacco companies).
- Employing professional lobbyists.
- Setting up and joining existing trade associations, to lobby on companies’ behalf. See also UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA).
- ‘Astroturfing’ – setting up fake grass roots campaigns.
Can E-Cigarettes Help Advance Public Health?
Globally, there is an ongoing debate about whether e-cigarettes are a threat or an opportunity to public health. Some public health experts believe that e-cigarettes are an essential alternative to smoking tobacco that can help smokers quit. Others argue that e-cigarettes could be a route into nicotine addiction and point out that their long-term safety has not yet been proven. There are also those that believe that e-cigarettes may offer public health benefits but that e-cigarettes should be regulated, particularly when it comes to the marketing of such products.
While acknowledging that there are many unknowns about e-cigarettes and that these products are not harmless, many experts in tobacco control and public health will agree that vaping e-cigarettes is less harmful to the health of an individual smoker than smoking cigarettes. For e-cigarettes to have a positive impact on population-level health, a significant number of smokers need to switch completely to e-cigarettes (so not dual-using these products with cigarettes), and the product cannot act as a ‘gateway’ into nicotine addiction for youth and non-smokers, or undermine existing proven tobacco control measures. The difficulty is that a growing share of the global e-cigarette market these days is held by the tobacco industry, which has a history of using NGPs to stem the decline in cigarette sales and promote these products to any potential customer.
What the Industry Says: It’s All About Harm Reduction
The tobacco industry has long argued that products like e-cigarettes should be made easily available to smokers, to offer them a ‘less harmful’ alternative to smoking. In its 2018 Next Generation Products report, Imperial Tobacco wrote that particularly e-cigarettes (or ‘vapour products’ as they refer to it) were creating “…a huge global public health opportunity”. BAT, somewhat misleadingly, claimed that there is ‘growing scientific consensus’ on the issue. In its 2018 Sustainability Report, the company stated:
- “There is growing consensus among public health bodies and academics that vapour products [e-cigarettes] can have a significantly reduced risk profile compared to smoking. Public Health England in the UK estimates these products are ‘95% less harmful than smoking’... Other third-party science and research supporting the significantly reduced-risk potential of vapour products continue to grow”.
A study by researchers from the University of Bath’s Tobacco Control Research Group found that these products, and the associated harm reduction narrative, serve to “…‘renormalize’ an industry that is determined to be seen as a responsible business with a legitimate product…”. The study also found that the products and narrative are used as tools to initiate dialogue with scientists, public health experts, politicians and policy makers, re-framing themselves as ‘part of the solution’ rather than being the problem. Therefore, the tobacco industry is using e-cigarettes and other NGPs as a way to try and re-enter the policy arena from which it has increasingly, and successfully, been excluded in line with Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
What Industry Documents Show: It’s All About Profit
Despite positioning itself as ‘the solution to the tobacco problem’ it is worth noting that the core of the global tobacco industry’s business remains unchanged. E-cigarettes only form a tiny percentage of their work and will do so for the foreseeable future. Tobacco company presentations to investors show that cigarettes remain central to the tobacco business, and the main driver for growth. At its 2019 Annual General Meeting PMI’s CEO Andre Calantzopoulos said that, while stating that NGPs are increasingly complementing its cigarette business, the company was “committed to maintaining leadership of the cigarette category” and that it would be “focusing innovation on fewer, more impactful [cigarette] initiatives that can be deployed swiftly in any market”. Similarly, BAT’s CEO Jack Bowles told investors in August 2019: “Our combustible business continues to drive the financial performance of the group and we are performing well”.
Profits from e-cigarettes are seen as additional to tobacco companies’ core business, and not simply replacing revenue lost from falling sales of cigarettes. In a July 2018 question and answer session, Imperial Tobacco CEO Alison Cooper talked about ‘vapour consumption’ and told her audience that “a lot of the time it’s actually also adding to the nicotine consumption in the market. it’s not a question of shifting to NGP, then that comes straight out of the combustible tobacco consumption because we are seeing nicotine market growth in the UK, for example”.
Similarly, in October 2018, BAT reported that the nicotine consumer pool had started growing in 2013 - when the tobacco industry had started investing in e-cigarettes. See also: E-Cigarettes: British American Tobacco.
Imperial continues to develop tobacco products to appeal to both non-smokers, and those who smoke and vape (‘dual’ or ‘poly’ users). It launched its ‘Riverside’ brand of rolling tobacco in the UK in October 2018. According to Talking Retail, Imperial described it as:
“a high-quality, easy-to-roll blend of tobacco at an affordable price, designed to appeal to new smokers as well as dualists”.
WHO Urges Caution
In March 2019, the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC issued an Information Note which compiled all Conference of the Parties (COP) decisions related to e-cigarettes.
A few months later, the Secretariat released a statement urging governments to remain vigilant, stating that:
“novel and emerging nicotine and tobacco products…are creating another layer of interference by the tobacco industry and related industries, which is still reported by Parties as the most serious barrier to progress in implementing the WHO FCTC”.
It also reminded Parties of their obligations under Article 5.3 to protect tobacco control policies and activities from all commercial and vested interests.
- E-cigarettes: The Basics
- E-Cigarettes: British American Tobacco
- E-Cigarettes: Lorillard
- E-Cigarettes: Imperial Tobacco
- E-Cigarettes: Japan Tobacco International
- E-Cigarettes: Philip Morris International
- E-Cigarettes: Altria
- The list of all pages on e-cigarettes.
- World Health Organisation (WHO): Tobacco - Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS)
- Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC): ENDS
- European Commission (EC): Electronic Cigarettes
- United States (US) Federal Drug Administration (FDA): Vaporizers, E-Cigarettes, and other Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS)
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