A UK parliamentary inquiry into e-cigarettes has drawn out hundreds of pages of testimony from the tobacco industry – including British American Tobacco UK, Philip Morris Limited and Japan Tobacco International – confirming big tobacco’s solid activity in vaping markets.
The vaping industry is often portrayed as a plucky disruptive business free of tobacco industry control: “Imagine a world where innovators devlelop [sic] health and healing products and services that encourage preventive lifestyles, anti-aging and longevity,” says Nicoventures (owned by British American Tobacco), and the propaganda is widely inhaled:
- “Go Smoke Free”, a vaping supplier, recently proposed that 80% of the vaping business was independent.
- A Reddit user wrote a conspiracy along the lines that “vaping is banned in Hong Kong because the tobacco companies don’t want the competition”.
- Meanwhile a more authoritative source, The Independent British Vape Trade Association, claimed in its parliamentary submission “the overwhelming majority of the European vape industry is free from any control or ownership by the tobacco industry.”
But the UK parliamentary inquiry confirms none of this is really true, as the traditional nicotine merchants have already taken a dominant stance in e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems. As the UK’s Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association itself says “The tobacco industry is key to the development of next generation products such as e-cigarettes, investing significant resources in the UK.”
Big Tobacco vaping activity confirmed through the UK inquiry
Through Fontem Ventures, the owner of Superkings, Salem and Lambert & Butler brands is developing a portfolio of brands “beyond tobacco”, including leading e-cigarette brand blu. According to Imperial Tobacco’s parliamentary submission, blu holds a current market share of 15.57% (based on the value of products when sold in traditional retail outlets) of the estimated £5.7 billion UK vaping market.
Japan Tobacco International (JTI)
“JTI has been a major player in the UK e-cigarette market since its acquisition of the E-Lites [now Logic] brand in 2014, and today offers a full range of vaping products to meet consumer demand, under the Logic brand,” says the company in its submission to the UK parliament.
In 2015, Logic’s e-cigs were the fourth-best-selling by volume in US mainstream retail outlets, according to Nielsen, accounting for 8.2% of product sold.
British American Tobacco (BAT)
“We were the first tobacco company to launch an e-cigarette in the UK and today we are market leaders. We sell e-cigarettes through a range of channels, online, in large and small retail stores and through pharmacies such as Lloyds and Boots. ”
BAT says it has invested heavily in R&D for its Vype and other e-cigarette development, and has 1,500 people employed in science, technology and innovation roles. “There are more people employed in our R&D Centre in Southampton today, dedicated to science, innovation and technology, than were employed when the site was a tobacco factory,” the company says.
Philip Morris International (PMI)
PMI is well known for pushing the new technology of IQOS and “heat not burn” (or more accurately “heat and burn”, as Imperial Tobacco quipped), yet it is also highly active in what it calls “Platform 4” or vaping markets. “PMI is also a major supplier of e-cigarettes, through the Vivid, Nicocigs and Mesh brands,” it tells the UK parliamentary committee. Already in 2014, Nicocigs claimed the largest e-cigarette market share in the UK.
Vaping groups and tobacco firms promulgate the myth that vaping is an entirely new and different species to tobacco: such a stance invites a different regulatory approach to traditional nicotine delivery devices while painting vaping as an underdog, a trendy and disruptive force for good. But the story doesn’t hold up… traditional nicotine merchants are dominating the vaping business, a fact which demands regulators stay on full alert when developing strategies and policies to put nicotine addiction on a downward trend.