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For a product barely anyone had been aware of five years ago, they now appear to be on everyone’s lips. While much has been written concerning the safety of these products and their potential to either support or sabotage efforts to reduce smoking rates, it’s timely to think about why the global tobacco industry has taken such a keen interest in buying electronic cigarette companies.

Despite e-cigarettes seemingly dominating public and academic debate on tobacco control, the worldwide e-cigarette market is minuscule when compared with traditional tobacco products. Euromonitor estimates the global e-cigarette market was worth US$3 billion in 2013.

Compare this to the global tobacco market, just about the most valuable fast moving consumer goods industries, worth approximately US$800 billion – a lot more than 260 times how big the electronic cigarette market. This highly profitable tobacco market, outside of China, is dominated and controlled by just five major players: Japan Tobacco International, Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International, and Altria/Philip Morris USA.

Virtually all of the global tobacco companies have a stake in the e-cigarette market, with many buying up independent electronic cigarette companies.

Philip Morris International, known as PMI, is taking it a step further: along with recently purchasing UK electronic cigarette company Nicocigs Ltd, it will likely be launching the best e cig. Unlike e-cigs, which vapourise liquid nicotine, the HeatStick takes normal tobacco and heats it to 350 degrees Celsius to create a tobacco vapour.

PMI plans to introduce the Marlboro HeatStick in test markets in Japan and Italy later this coming year. Similar types of products were introduced inside the 1990s, but failed dismally when smokers rejected both the taste and absence of smoking satisfaction. PMI appears hopeful this latest generation of heat technology will be more acceptable to smokers.

On the surface, it may seem like the tobacco industry is simply buying up these businesses before they become a major threat to the profits. Or even, which it sees a bright future for e-cigarettes and wants to control the marketplace.

But considering simply how much more profitable traditional cigarettes are than e-cigarettes, as well as the tobacco industry’s long and chequered corporate history, it’s vital that you question how many other motivations they might have.

Tobacco advertising on tv is almost universally banned, the tobacco-friendly states of Indonesia and Zimbabwe being two holdouts. It really has been decades since a tobacco ad appeared on television screens in the United States and Uk. But electronic cigarette marketing is really a booming business both in countries with controversial television ad campaigns and celebrity endorsements.

Using celebrities, se.x, glamour, adventure, rebelliousness, youth and sweetness to sell addictive products is very familiar territory for your tobacco industry. These sorts of campaigns contradict the tobacco industry’s pubic relations message that it is only considering selling e-cigarettes to adults who are not able to stop smoking.

Add to the simple fact that PMI cannot show packs of Marlboro on store shelves or splash the iconic red Marlboro chevron on Formula One cars, it could promote the united states$69 billion Marlboro brand by putting it on the HeatStick product.

E-cigarettes may also assist the tobacco industry undo the effects of policies who have seen cigarettes pushed from social settings that kept people smoking. While smoking bans are principally about protecting people, especially workers, from secondhand smoke, they have got an extra positive advantage of reducing smoking rates.

Pushing to permit e-cigarette use in pubs and restaurants means there is absolutely no must quit, because whenever you can’t smoke, simply use an e-cigarette instead. But, don’t forget to keep smoking the true stuff when you are able too.

Since acquiring e-cigarette brands, not one tobacco company has stepped out of the way of tobacco control policy makers trying to reduce smoking. The market has not raised a white flag and consented to no longer oppose effective tobacco control policy reform.

It is business as usual: oppose, lobby and litigate when countries implement laws that influence on cigarette sales. Which is why the international treaty to lessen tobacco use, the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, is explicit in banning tobacco industry influence in tobacco control policy. Choosing a “fundamental and irreconcilable conflict arzalp interest” involving the industry and public health means the market will not be a welcome stakeholder in formulating public health policy.

E-cigarettes are a potentially useful tool in giving the tobacco industry a seat back on the policy table. When it can indicate e-cigarettes as “proof” it cares about consumers and is working to reduce tobacco harms, then perhaps it can not be shut out of the regulatory process. No matter that e-cigarettes are a tiny part of its total business.

And lastly, e-cigarettes are a huge distraction to tobacco control advocates and policy makers. No doubt the tobacco industry celebrates witnessing the debate and division among tobacco control colleagues on the utility of e-cigarettes in reducing the harms of tobacco use. The less attention paid towards the deadly US$800 billion arm from the business the better.