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Playground Bully Big Tobacco Strikes Again

Another independent e-cigarette company has been swallowed up by Big Tobacco, this time by a company that has already marketed its own line of e-cigarettes.

Up until now, Big Tobacco companies wishing to muscle in on the electronic cigarette market have chosen one of two strategies, either a buyout of an existing e-cig company that has never sold cancer sticks, or developing one's own brand. Now Altria, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes, which already brought out its own line of e-cigs last year, Mark Ten, has now bought an e-cig company, Green Smoke, which has had clean hands until now.

Many vapers are troubled by the prospect of Big Tobacco dominating the vaping industry, but to some it seems an inevitability. Big Tobacco has pockets of seemingly limitless depth, and they also have established distribution networks in millions of stores. After over a century of marketing deadly disease and lying about it, Big Tobacco possesses tremendous economic clout, by contrast with companies producing only vaping products, which have existed for less than a decade. The press, and particularly the passionate cohort of anti-smoking activists, are coming to see Big Tobacco as a body that speaks for the e-cig industry and indeed for vapers themselves. The irony is not only outrageous but sad.

Overwhelmingly, vapers use e-cigs to quit smoking, even though a court decision has made it taboo for e-cig marketers to say so. Vapers are trying to get out of the clutches of a murderous industry. And now, that very industry is using the profits of its lies and killings to recast itself as some kind of savior, and to speak for people who are earnestly trying to escape from it. And in doing so they threaten, just by the way, to swamp a lot of small companies who have never marketed death, only its antidote.

Another wrinkle is the fact that there are two major categories of vaping products, cigalikes, which look as much as possible like lethal cigarettes, and a variety of types of personal vaporizers, which can look like pens or just about anything. While many seasoned vapers have graduated to vaporizers, many beginning vapers prefer the cigalikes because they want something that mimicks the smoking experience very closely, to enhance the effect of the product as a smoking cessation device. The e-cigs marketed by Big Tobacco are overwhelmingly cigalikes, but many of the non-tobacco e-cig producers ("dedicated e-cig companies", in business lingo, "clean-hands" in ours) make cigalikes too, sometimes as their only product, and sometimes in conjunction with vaporizers.

It turns out that there is something vapers can do to counteract the efforts of Big Tobacco to take over our recreational product and get itself accepted as our spokesperson. A friend of mine recently stood in front of her local convenience store with a sign with information about which e-cigs were being sold by non-cigarette producers and which were being sold by Big Tobacco. She engaged several customers in interesting conversations and believes she actually steered some of them toward the "clean-hands" products.

As a reference guide, here is a breakdown of Big-Tobacco-produced e-cigs, along with BT company names, and brands of (some of the) coffin nails they also peddle:

Blu. Lorillard. Newport.

Vuse. RJ Reynolds. Camel.

Vype. British American Tobacco. Kent.

Dragonite (one of the 1st e-cigs, may be rebranded). Imperial Tobacco. Galoises.

MarkTen. Altria. Marlboro.

Green Smoke (may be rebranded). Altria. Marlboro.

brand name TBA. Phillip Morris (div. of Altria). Marlboro, Virginia Slims, B&H.

It would be pointless to list the "dedicated e-cig" brands here (the "clean-hands" companies that market vaping products but no lethal cigarettes). There are too many of them, some would be missed, and that would be unjust. You probably know the major ones, one of which was recently featured in a Super Bowl ad. What my friend did, in order to target her campaign more effectively, was to look in her local convenience store first to see which brands, both "dedicated" and BT, were on sale. That way her information was localized and related directly to the choices purchasers were about to make.

It could turn into a movement. You could spread the word at your local vaping lounge. Maybe the regulators could even be persuaded to distinguish between "dual marketers" (companies selling both lethal cigarettes and vaping devices) and clean-hands companies ("dedicated e-cig companies"). The distinction could come into play as regulators set up tax structures, design licensing requirements, and institute other financial dis-incentives.

Maybe, or are the regulators in Big Tobacco's deep pocket?