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Big Tobacco’s Hidden Agenda Against Electronic Cigarettes

Just last week, two major tobacco companies, Reynolds American Inc. and Lorillard Inc. came out swinging, encouraging U.S. health officials to move swiftly when it comes to the regulation of e-cigarettes. Reynolds, who manufactures Camel, and Lorillard who makes Newport, are saying that the lack of clear rules for e-cigarettes makers is impeding the ability for smokers to switch to truly less-hazardous products.

Reynolds Chief Executive Officer Susan Cameron said at the Global Tobacco Networking Forum last week in Virginia that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration needs to review proposed guidelines for the e-cigarette industry thus creating a level playing field for electronic cigarette competitors. Lorillard CEO Murray Kessler echoed those feelings when he spoke at the same conference, adding that if the agency fails to create regulation in a timely manner, it could jeopardize the huge potential health benefits gained when smokers convert to using vapes. Lack of regulation could allow poorly made and potentially dangerous devices to infiltrate the market, negating the health benefits that e-cigs provide.

Other tobacco companies also seem to be pushing the idea of regulation, by printing extensive warnings about their e-cigarette products that seem to completely overshadow their combustible counterparts. The best example is on MarkTen e-cigarettes, manufactured by Nu Mark, a company owned by Altria, the parent company of such big names as Marlboro, Virginia Slims, Parliaments and several other brands under the Phillip Morris umbrella. The MarkTen package features a 117 word long warning, which is over 10 times longer than the average warning put on a traditional pack of smokes. The warning includes much stronger language designed to truly strike fear into the heart of potential users. This is not just found on the MarkTen device, but on numerous vape brands that are being peddled by big tobacco.

Currently, traditional cigarettes feature one of several shorter warnings required by the FDA. One Marlboro warning, a cigarette manufactured by Altria, states only, “Nicotine is addictive and habit forming, and is very toxic by inhalation, in contact with the skin, or if swallowed.” This is strikingly different from the over 100 world long warning on MarkTen.

William Phelps, spokesperson for Nu Mark told the New York Times, who was one of the first to report on these extended warning labels, that the longer labels on the new e-cigarette products are part of “a goal to openly and honestly communicate about health effects.” Altria has said in their statement that they fully support the FDA developing a national warning for e-cigarette products, stating that the warning on the Nu Mark product is compiled from a variety of sources that they use, “in the absence of a government-mandated warning.” This being said, the traditional cigarettes marketed by Altria, all use the shorter, federally mandated warning designated by the FDA on their packaging.

R.J. Reynolds, which makes Vuse e-cigarettes, also puts a similarly lengthy warning on their e-cigarette products, but notes that e-cigarettes aren’t “combustion based.” Reynolds fought against a plan by the FDA to require larger, graphic warnings back in 2009. This plan failed after a successful court challenge from large corporations like Reynolds. So why do they fight for shorter labels for their traditional cigarettes, but seem to feel the opposite way when it comes to their electronic products?

Spokespeople for these companies cite their social responsibility to the public that uses their product for the reasoning behind the extensive warning labels, but many people question the motivation of these large tobacco companies. When you think about it, you have to ask the question: why is big tobacco, when they sell a product that is responsible for 480,000 deaths a year in American alone, all of a sudden concerned about the health safety of smokers?

tobacco companies vs e-cigsThere are two reasons that come to mind, despite the fact that they may feel contradictory. One reason the tobacco companies are pushing for stringent FDA regulations may be to drive the smaller companies out of business. Big tobacco has more money to adapt to regulation and packaging changes, something smaller companies might struggle keeping up with. This could allow them to corner the market and slowly push out the little guy.

On the other side of the coin, they seem to be creating a culture of danger when it comes to looking at the vaporizers, deeming them scary, unsafe and untested. Putting lengthy warnings, as they do, could also deter traditional smokers from switching over, keeping their traditional smokes in people’s pockets. They seem to be trying to avoid a cut in their overall profits by allowing people to think that there is no real benefit to switching over to vapes. E-cigarettes do pose a threat to tobacco companies as many are using the devices to kick the habit, which can only hurt big tobacco sales. It doesn’t help that numerous studies are coming out proving it’s effectiveness as a cessation method.

The New York Times article offers its review on the tobacco companies motives as well: “Experts with years studying tobacco company behavior say they strongly suspect several motives, but, chiefly, that the e-cigarette warnings are a very low-risk way for the companies to insulate themselves from future lawsuits and, even more broadly, to appear responsible, open and frank. By doing so, the experts said, big tobacco curries favor with consumers and regulators, earning a kind of legitimacy that they crave and have sought for decades. Plus, they get to appear more responsible than the smaller e-cigarette companies that seek to unseat them.”

Big tobacco companies have always put stock in appearances. Their strides to appear socially responsible are hard to swallow when you look at the numbers of people affected negatively by the use of traditional cigarettes. With over 16 million Americans currently living with a disease caused by smoking, it’s hard to believe the tobacco companies is motivated by promoting good health. Just like most things when it comes to big corporation, money and profits are always a factor.

The U.S. e-cig market is worth about $3 billion today, which is only about 5 percent of the tobacco industry’s total. Still, vaping devices could eventually make traditional cigarettes “a thing of the past,” Lorillard CEO Kessler said at that conference in Virginia. That statement seems to be telling of the underlying nature of big tobacco’s motives. With the incredible growth of e-cigarettes, big tobacco has to jump on the e-cigarette bandwagon, or risk being left behind. It’s unfortunate that they seem to favor regulation and are using the argument of caring about consumer’s health in order to poise themselves to take over the industry.

The truth is users will never get the whole story on a warning label on some package. As with anything, vapers should become well informed and be able to make their own choices. Hopefully, regulation will come in the right way, and allow all the manufacturers to peacefully co-exist, resulting in a better product and more choices for the user.

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