It's looking more and more certain that the merger between Newport maker Lorillard and Camel maker R J Reynolds is going to happen. The two neighbors – both are headquartered in North Carolina, in the heart of the state's tobacco fields – have been talking for weeks about joining forces. And now they're “confirming speculation” about their talks. In other words, it's going to happen. British American Tobacco (BAT), which owns almost half of R J Reynolds, is behind the move. This will create a tobacco megalith in a stronger position to compete with the even bigger megalith, Virginia-based Altria.
All three companies have been using the e-cigarette strategy to counteract the slide in cigarette sales that has been scaring the trousers off Big Tobacco for close to a decade. Lorillard bought Blu e-cigs in 2012 and made it into the industry leader, then bought British e-cig firm SkyCig the following year, and is now in the process of turning it into Blu UK. BAT bought up e-cig firm CN Creative late in 2012, and used its technologies to bring out its own e-cig brand, Vype the next year. R J Reynolds created Vuse (pronounced “views”) at the same time. Both Vype and Vuse are currently in regional test markets, with plans to go into wider distribution soon. Other Big Tobacco firms have not lagged far behind: Altria, Imperial, and Japan Tobacco all have their own e-cigs now.
What does all this mean to users? To smokers, very little. Big Tobacco will continue selling them cancer as long as they will keep buying it. And selling the antidote out of the other pocket.
To smokers wishing to quit by vaping, it means that their choices will be increasingly narrowed, as the combined marketing resources of Big Tobacco may well enable them to eclipse some smaller independents. For the smoker who is just beginning the move to e-cigarettes, the newbie vaper, the product of choice will most likely continue to be the “cigalike” – a product that closely mimics the smoking experience. Unless they research the market carefully, such newbies will tend to select a brand uncritically, not thinking about whether he or she is supporting Big Tobacco or supporting independents. They may well gravitate toward the cigalikes with the greatest market visibility.
What will it mean for seasoned vapers? There is a danger that your trusted independent vaping supplies company may be bought up by one of the Big Tobacco megaliths, in their continuing effort to own the industry. Or your independent supplier may face a squeeze if the market succumbs to monopolistic dominance by cigarette-selling juggernauts.
Fortunately, awareness is high in the community of seasoned vapers. Maintaining critical awareness and spreading the word will be important. So will communication with regulatory authorities and government representatives. Vapers can write to the FDA, the MHRA, or the EU Commission, or sign the ENVI petition if you're in Europe. Let the regulators know that you're aware of the looming monopolies, that you favor regulations that will reduce the influence of monopolistic tobacco hawkers.
And don't be quiet around friends and fellow vapers either. Friends don't let friends vape tobacco-sponsored e-cigs. Spread the word.
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