Recent developments have seen British American Tobacco looking to acquire Reynolds American, which would effectively make it the world’s largest tobacco company. The deal was spurred largely on the strength of Reynolds' development of ecigarette products, which BAT is looking to expand its involvement with. Both BAT and Philip Morris are making inroads into ecigarette territory that should concern vapers and independent manufacturers in the vaping industry.
Where Big Tobacco can help the industry: research & development
Big Tobacco has endless vats of money to conduct research, testing, and studies. The last item is problematic, as any study Big Tobacco releases will have a heavy “consider the interested source” attached to it, such as the ones we’ve recently seen in the media. However, the research and testing side will likely bring about new developments in eliquids and hardware. Right now, the products on offer from tobacco companies aren’t and have not been popular with vapers, but they are likely to catch up to the market very fast with their vast resources.
Where Big Tobacco can - and has - hurt the industry
1. Pushing smaller companies out of the market
Recently, independent ecigarette manufacturer Njoy declared bankruptcy in the United States. Granted, this was likely product-driven as Njoy primarily sold first-generation devices that are no longer popular with the vaping crowd, but Njoy’s death knell should serve as a wake-up call to independent hardware and eliquid businesses in the vaping industry.
Here in the UK, Blu recently set up a campaign where they were handing out free devices for Stoptober - smaller manufacturers simply cannot compete with free, and Big Tobacco knows it. Using their considerable resources, especially if ads bans are lifted at any point in the future, could push more people onto their products and edge independents out of the market. This is an infuriating possibility as most vaping manufacturers have been leaders in their field, compliant with quality standards and the Tobacco Products Directive, and Big Tobacco wants to waltz in and take over the industry they built.
2. Lobbying for Article 20 of the Tobacco Products Directive
The tobacco industry heavily lobbied for Article 20 of the Tobacco Products Directive, which puts severe restrictions on ecigarettes and related products. In order to be compliant with Article 20, British manufacturers like Vapemate have had to expend considerable resources in order to supply a legal product. Cigarettes, which offer far more harm than vaping products, have minimal packaging restrictions, and no similar restrictions on their manufacture to the restrictions on eliquids. If they did, you would only be able to buy cigarettes in 10-packs, just as you are only allowed to buy 10ml bottles of eliquid - a head-scratching restriction that makes no sense, unless you are a tobacco company trying to make things more difficult for a smaller manufacturer.
3. The big issue: trust
Matt Myers, president of the American Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, had this to say about tobacco companies getting into the quit smoking business. “Given their history, no one should ever trust what a tobacco company says it intends to do.” In this Canadian documentary on Big Tobacco entering the ecigs industry, Ann McNeill, Deputy Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol studies, is uncomfortable with the involvement of Big Tobacco in this sector. And of course there is the man on the street - why would you trust the company who addicted you to cigarettes for years to properly wean you off them?
In conclusion, the considerable resources that Big Tobacco brings to the table can certainly help the development of products in the industry, but those same resources will likely be used to try to edge smaller manufacturers off their turf. While this is how the free market works, we should be wary and cautious of players like Big Tobacco companies who are clearly not as interested in helping people quit smoking as independent vaping manufacturers are.