Most vapers will surely be aware of the entry of Big Tobacco into the e-cigarette market over the last 18 months. Lorillard (makers of Kools) bought BluCigs for $135 million (they’ve just made $57m in the last quarter so seems they made a good investment), RJ Reynolds (Camel, Winston) are shortly to release their product, Vuse; British American Tobacco (BAT) purchased CN Creative (Intellicig) for $30-50 million last year; Phillip Morris (rebranded as Altria) are due to release a product later this year, and so on.
With an estimated 6.2% drop in overall US cigarette sales over the last quarter, you can see why these companies are jumping in now.
The community is split as to the significance, and also the risks, of BT entering the market. On the one hand, it could be viewed as positive that BT are using their considerable resources to develop and market a safer product, but on the other hand these are enormous businesses that will want to shape the industry in their own image.
Take RJ Reynolds. They have a considerable advantage in that they are the first BT player to launch a new product, with all the attendant hype that goes with such a launch. They also have, of course, logistics and distribution chains ready-to-go. However, it’s now clear that these chains are not enough for Reynolds. Online sales threaten their business model, as do independent vape stores, and it’s clear they wish to see these removed.
The evidence? Under the dubious banner of ‘protecting minors’, RJ Reynolds is lobbying for and sponsoring bills across the country ostensibly to prevent minors purchasing e-cig products, and to protect non-smokers from fumes (oh, the irony). The real purpose of these bills is clearly to prevent online sales by competitors and close down independent vape shops. By also persuading legislators to include e-cigs in smokefree legislation (in one case, at least, meaning that vaping cannot happen within 20 meters of public buildings) vape shops become untenable. Regarding online sales, the requirement to use prohibitively expensive age-verification software will close many sites down, and in some states, an outright ban on online sales is being angled for.
CASAA are doing an admirable job of countering these Reynolds-sponsored bills wherever they appear (But they always need more help – Join!). And in this they have an unlikely ally – guess who? Big Tobacco! That’s right – the last thing that Altria want is for Reynolds to steal a march on them by closing down the market for their own ends. Far more preferable for them that the market is kept open to all players, for the time being at least.
And so we now have a battle between tobacco companies being played out in American state legislatures – with Reynolds sneaking in its laws and their rivals pushing back. It’s a fascinating play, that’s for sure, and time will tell where it will all end.
So what can vapers do while all this is taking place?
We recommend you report anything you observe in your local state or county to CASAA directly. This is an issue that won’t go away any time soon, so it’s essential we do what we can to protect the right to vape.