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E-Cig Presence at Big Tobacco Hosted Trade Show

If you thought NATO was a treaty alliance, guess again. It's Big Tobacco's big party for the industry, held this year at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel (with its replica of the Eiffel Tower), April 8-10.

Although there is a modicum of independent e-cig visibility, most of the program is devoted to shoring up the fortunes of traditional combustible cigarettes. The first day of regular programming, Wednesday, April 9, opens with a panel revealingly entitled: "Smoking Out Electronic Cigarettes". It features the President and General Manager of Altria's e-cig division, Nu Mark (which produces the Altria e-cig line, Mark Ten e-cigs), a position he took after serving as VP and General counsel for Altria (aka Philip Morris) Client Services.

Also on the panel will be his counterpart at RJ Reynolds, the President of the subsidiary that produces the Vuse e-cig, Stephanie Cordisco. Not to leave out the independent producers altogether, the panel also includes former Altria brass Miguel Martin, now President of Logic, and former Altria brass Vito Maurici, now Senior Vice President of Sales Distribution at NJOY. The program announces that these "top players in the space" will reveal their opinions on "the future of total nicotine."

If this leaves a bad taste in your mouth, just remember what it was like smoking poisonous cigarettes!    

A major focus of the "Pre-Show Highlights" will be a set of presentations on the topic of "Fighting back against higher cigarette taxes." On the exhibitors' floor all the big guns of American Big Tobacco will be present, but there will not be separate exhibits for their e-cig minions (Blu, Vuse, and Mark Ten), with the exception of Altria subsidiary Green Smoke, an independent e-cig company bought by Altria late last year.

Several of the major independent companies will field exhibits, some of them, like Logic and NJOY, with major Big Tobacco connections in top management, others whose links to Big Tobacco are weaker, non-existent, or unclear. FIN is present but its new partner Victory is not. Mistic and V2 will have exhibits. Several Shenzhen companies will be represented, and others that are American fronts for Chinese companies. ProSmoke, a Chicago-based company that calls itself the No. 1 rated e-cig, and a "Green-certified" product, has made a big publicity effort to "surround... 2014 NATO Show attendees with top rated retail e-cigarette products."

Wednesday's early panels will be followed with a speech by Lorillard CEO Murray Kessler, labeled the "Industry Leader's Perspective", suggesting that Lorillard is eager to shore up its desired image of itself as spokesman for an industry that includes e-cigarettes as well as combustibles. Thursday's program includes presentations by tobacco attorney Thomas Briant, who has served as Executive Director of NATO since its founding in 2001, and by tobacco stock market guru Bonnie Herzog, in a session labeled "Legislative and Regulatory Update/Trends and Insights." This will be followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Briant, featuring brass from Lorillard (Michael Shannon), Altria (Jack Marshall), RJ Reynolds (Steve Kottak), and Chicago-based DRL Enterprises, owner of Republic Tobacco (Carl Loos).

It is clear that Big Tobacco, hurting from regulatory blows to its profitability, wishes to take the fledgling e-cigarette industry, with its tremendous profit potential, under its protective wing, and to present itself as the voice of the industry. It seems probable that many in the rising vaping movement will resist this kind of oversight and reject the idea that Big Tobacco represents them.

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