It’s long been suspected that Big Tobacco money was behind early efforts to attack the e-cig industry because it posed a potential threat to the tobacco cigarette industry. Now it’s apparent Big Tobacco is not only jumping on the bandwagon, but setting its sights on taking over the bandwagon.
Lorillard, the 3rd largest Big Tobacco company in the US acquired Blu brand e-cigs last year and just earlier this month Reynolds, America’s 2nd largest Big Tobacco company announced its entry into the market with Vuse e-cigarettes. The no. 1 US Big Tobacco company, Altria, acquired Green Smoke for $110 million in February and is planning national distribution of a new e-cig, NuMark, by the end of the year while Philip Morris, a subsidiary of Altria, recently announced it acquired British e-cigarette maker Nicocig for an undisclosed price. Some in the e-cig community might see this as a positive development thinking that with increased marketing from Big Tobacco brands there’ll be increased public awareness of e-cigarettes. However, I think there’s good reasons to worry about the quality of information and products Big Tobacco pushes to the public, leading to the first of the reasons to not support them:
Reason 1: It is in the interests of Big Tobacco to associate e-cigarettes with tobacco cigarettes.
Big Tobacco companies aren’t about to lose their customer base without a fight, and even as more smokers continue to switch to e-cigarettes, they’re often lured towards e-cig brands owned by the corporations that understand their addiction best. Big Tobacco have decades of experience effectively marketing cigarettes and they’re using similar tactics to make e-cigs attractive to smokers and former smokers (especially among youth). Big Tobacco e-cigs such as Green Smoke and Vuse are designed and packaged to look very similar to tobacco cigarettes and are often marketed as “tobacco products”. This may seem like a fair label on the surface because e-cigs use liquids containing nicotine usually extracted from tobacco, but one could argue they’re not exactly tobacco products because nicotine is a chemical that can be synthesized and is found in other plants such as eggplant, tomatoes and peppers. It’s an important distinction to make because a common misconception is that e-cigs are as harmful as tobacco cigarettes when in fact much of the damage caused by smoking cigarettes can be attributed to the combustion of processed tobacco which have been found to contain radiation, gmo genes, ammonia and pesticides. There is at least one e-cig specifically designed for use with tobacco and not surprisingly it’s made by Philip Morris. Many e-cigs produced by big tobacco are designed to emulate the experience of smoking with smoke-like nicotine content and taste. This is great for smokers content to continue vaping in a manner similar to how they’re accustomed to smoking, but not so good for those trying to decrease or end their addiction or would like to experience a wider range of flavors, vape temperatures, nicotine levels, or psychoactive substances. E-cigs and vapes produced by smaller businesses are far more versatile, allowing users to choose the flavors and nicotine content of e-liquids they use, select from variable voltage settings, and with modular attachments they can also vape non-tobacco herbs, oils and concentrates instead. E-cigs from Big Tobacco, on the other hand, use disposable cartridges which have a host of problems leading to the next argument:
Reason 2: E-cigs produced by Big Tobacco are more harmful to you and the environment.
Nearly every Big Tobacco-owned electronic cigarette uses disposable cartridges which are cheap to produce but end up costing consumers more in the long run than refillable cartridges. The type of e-cigs produced by Big Tobacco are called “cigalikes” and typically contain five times less battery power and e-liquid. The weak vapor produced by underpowered cigalike batteries make it more likely for former smokers to revert back to their tobacco cigarette habits. They also limit consumer choice because such cartridges are usually proprietary, not designed for use with components from other brands and more limited in selection of flavors and nicotine content than liquids sold separately. Cigalikes which are disposable or use disposable cartridges are also potentially more hazardous to your health than other forms of vaporizers. Though there still needs to be more research on comparative health effects, a 2009 FDA study often cited by critics as proof that e-cigs emit low levels of tobacco-specific nitrosamines and other impurities only tested devices using disposable cartridges (“Njoy”, “Smoking Everywhere” and “Nicotrol” brands). Just like with tobacco cigarette filters, we may one day see disposable e-cig cartridges littered everywhere if Big Tobacco has its way. As with other cheap disposable products, disposable e-cigs and e-cig filters are designed for planned obsolescence; a policy which creates demand by making a product obsolete faster forcing consumers to buy more regularly and discard old products into landfills more often. Such practices of Big Tobacco and other large corporations leads to the third argument:
Reason 3: Big Tobacco has proven itself untrustworthy.
The history of the American tobacco industry is steeped in shame. Early settlers ripped off Native American tribes in order to acquire more land for tobacco fields. Indentured servants were exploited for labor intensive tobacco field work later to be replaced by slaves from Africa. By the 1880s, the industry was dominated by the monopolistic American Tobacco Company which was one of the companies forced to dissolve to comply with the Sherman Antitrust Act. The dissolution led to an increase in cigarette advertising while the four firms created from the breakup continue to dominate the tobacco market to this day. We now know that senior scientists and executives within the cigarette industry knew there was a correlation between smoking and cancer as early as the 1940s and were aware that smoking could cause lung cancer by the mid 1950s. However, it wasn’t until the 1990’s amidst successful lawsuits against Big Tobacco aided by leaked documents that major US cigarette manufacturers publicly admitted to varying degrees that smoking causes cancer and other health problems. Given their track record, it should come as no surprise how Big Tobacco approaches the e-cig market with the same focus on the bottom line.
Like many other large corporations with outsize influence, Big Tobacco is less concerned with wealth creation which extracts value by engaging in mutually beneficial transactions than rent-seeking; the use of social institutions such as government to gain monopolistic advantages while imposing disadvantages on competitors. The effects of rent-seeking are reduced economic efficiency through poor allocation of resources, reduced wealth creation, increased income inequality, lost government revenue (except for select paid-off legislators and regulators), decreases in innovation and entrepreneurship and national decline. Large corporations also create fewer quality domestic jobs per capita because they have the ability to cut costs through increased automation and outsourcing overseas. While CEOs of such companies may have wonderful jobs, there’s an increasingly wide income and quality gap between their position and the people at the lowest level of the company. In most cases, much of their profits are siphoned off to a small group at the top of the hierarchy who hoard it in offshore bank accounts.
Smaller domestic companies, while they may have to source certain components from overseas, tend to do more of the work in-house such as assembly, quality control, packaging, warehousing, etc. which creates more local jobs that distribute wealth into local economies. Small businesses also tend to have less of a wealth gap between employees and are run by people who are more passionate about their line of work, not people who inherited their careers, acquired it through connections or were hired by committee solely for their ability to generate income.
For the sake of your health, the environment, the economy and country, don’t support Big Tobacco. Support responsible small businesses and spread the message.