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another independent falls to Big Tobacco

E-Lites, a leading UK brand of electronic cigarettes, has joined the ranks of formerly independent vaping suppliers gobbled up by Big Tobacco's drive to take over the once-fledgling industry. Japan Tobacco International, makers of Winston, Benson and Hedges, and other brands of tobacco cigarettes, has announced that it will buy up all outstanding shares of Zandera, Ltd., the Worcestershire-based parent company of E-Lites. JTI spokespersons say that executive staff will remain unchanged, and separate

Founded independently in 2009, E-Lites have become a popular brand in Britain, known for a clever advert that went viral with its depiction of a cute dancing baby. Until this new development, E-Lites have not been affiliated with any manufacturer of lethal cigarettes. At this point it is unclear whether E-Lites vapers will follow the brand into the jaws of cigarette hawkers or seek another still-independent vaping supplies dealer.

E-cigarettes entered UK markets about a decade ago, introduced by fledgling start-ups with no connection to manufacturers of lethal tobacco cigarettes. They rapidly became popular enough to cut into the profits of Big Tobacco firms, which countered by beginning to purchase the originally independent firms.

America's Lorillard (Newports) was the first, buying independent firm Blu in 2012, and pumping enough money into marketing to make Blu e-cigs the market leader in the US. British American Tobacco followed later in the same year, buying Manchester-based CN Creative (Intellicig), converting its operations to production of BAT's own e-cig brand, Vype, through a new vaping supplies subsidiary, Nicoventures.

The following year, Imperial Tobacco bought the Chinese company, Dragonite (originally Ruyan), which owned international patents on the original invention of the vaping device, and was suing several e-cig companies for patent infringement. Imperial created a subsidiary in the Netherlands, Fontem, to market its new e-cig brand, Puritane, and to renew the lawsuit for a patent it had no part in creating. This practice is called "intellectual property trolling".

Also in 2013, Lorillard added UK firm Skycigs to its stable of e-cig interests, later converting it into Blu UK (notable for the recent gaffe with the mistaken announcement of a forthcoming promo by Lady Gaga). Phillip Morris International has acquired another originally-independent UK e-cig firm, Nicocigs.

So far most of the products offered by Big-Tobacco-owned e-cig companies are "cigalikes" – products that mimic the cigarette-smoking experience quite closely. These are often the e-cig of choice for newbie vapers, just beginning their move away from poisonous cigarettes. But industry watchers agree that the most important growth area in the vaping supplies industry is "tank systems" – modified personal vaporizers that permit the user to increase control and save money by adding nicotine-containing e-liquid to the tank of the unit, which is fully rechargeable and refillable and usually doesn't resemble a lethal cigarette very much at all.

Tank systems are often preferred by seasoned vapers, further away from their smoking experience, and they are more often produced and marketed by smaller firms that have retained their independence. Some industry observers expect Big Tobacco to go into tank systems soon, but it is not clear whether experienced vapers will buy tank-vapor systems from Big Tobacco firms, as many vapers harbor ill-will toward cigarette makers because of their dishonesty in the past, which resulted in so many deaths.

So it is clear that Big Tobacco's drive to steamroller over the vaping supplies industry is continuing and will continue. What is unclear is how the vaping community will respond to their entries into the market. It is possible that vapers, now a savvy and cohesive interest group with a memory, and with the ability to distinguish products by their parent companies, may reject vaping units sold by cigarette manufacturers.