Why the tobacco giants win - all the time

The story of how the anti-smoking lobby and their government friends played right into the hands of Big Tobacco.

I talk quite a lot with e-cigarette entrepreneurs. Or talk and talk. Interviews usually take place via messenger. Phone calls are hard to do when the interviewee is behind the cash register in their shop or buried in paperwork and order lists. 
But that's what it looks like. 

The vape world is made up of small business owners, with little time for anything but the basics. I therefore smile when I read about it cynical "e-cigarette industry" marketing to children with "colourful packaging" and "candy flavours" on "social media". 
Marketing? Industry?
Jojjo. A picture on the face of a nicotine-free juice, a little too infrequent to matter much. A banner on the website that mentions something about "good effect" and something else "cool". Maybe some colour. And then the next customer arrives, next form from the public health authority, next lunch with bookkeeping and cold pizza.
Not exactly a set-up for thoughtful marketing.

The world of tobacco companies is different

A little comparison. I was writing an article about snus the other day. I wanted to include a voice about the history of Swedish snus and of course called the Swedish Snus Museum. Yes, there is one, owned by Swedish big tobacco, Swedish Match(Talk about marketing). Exchanged a few words with the museum director, who asked to call back shortly. The hours passed. When the phone rings, it is not the nice woman from the museum who calls. Instead, it's a snappy gentleman from Swedish Match's marketing department. He wants to know what I'm looking for, "really". 

"It's a quiet week now, the quarterly report is released and we don't talk to the media. And the museum staff don't know anything about this!" says big tobacco.

He eventually calms down. It's just a matter of historical issues. Harmless. Finally gets to talk to the museum again. He "just wanted to check". 

Silent week or cuts

This tells us a lot about the different worlds of tobacco companies and road transport companies in Sweden are in.

One has a marketing department concerned for leaks ahead of the quarterly report (and has a finger on every media wire). The other worries about the too red number in the accountswhere the solution is either fewer staff hours or less time on developing the business, offering better juices, more starter kits to convert smokers.
One chooses a 'silent media period'. 
The other answers questions on the fly, happy for the attention, between customers demanding better strawberry flavour, calling coils a filter (it is NOT a filter!) and wondering if the vape will explode when the e-juice runs out.

Into the same world

Two worlds, then. But a few years ago they were forced into the same world, at least in terms of legislation. A more or less worldwide trend transformed in a shout tobacco-free products, which e-cigarettes actually are, into tobacco products. E-cigs became, in the eyes of the law, the same product they were sent to the world to eradicate. Despite the fact that, according to a growing scientific consensus, the technology is significantly less harmful than cigarette smoking (less than 5 per cent of all risks) and definitely helps smokers to quit cigarettes.

Threatening an ideological model

And it soon became clear what it would be about. Anything, which in any way risked destroying costly and highly ideologically driven tobacco prevention, would be removed.  Add to that incentives to push smokers into drugs that will "help" them quit smoking.
Ban on flavourswhich has been long overdue for cigarettes, will now also apply to e-juice and e-cigarettes (but not nicotine gum, surprise, surprise).
Smoking bans would also apply to e-cigarettes - even though they do not emit smoke (and are unlikely to affect anyone other than the user).
Banning tobacco marketing also stops advertising for e-cigarettes. (But of course not fruit-flavoured nicotine medicines).
Add to that sspecial rules for e-cigs and e-juices whose sole purpose is to is to make the products a little less attractive; lower nicotine levels and limitations on the capacity of the devices, limitations on flavours.

Playing into the hands of tobacco companies

You can think what you like about this. But they moneyed lobby groups, who fought for this type of legislation to become a reality, have done a great job! Their purpose is certainly obscure, with some funding from pharmaceutical companies selling nicotine medicines (surprise!). But that's another story. The serious thing here is that this development plays right into the hands of the tobacco companies.

Why is this the case?

Yes. Tobacco companies don't really have to adapt to the "new" regime at all, at least not to any serious extent. Variations in flavours, nicotine levels, bottle and tank sizes are not relevant to their main products - cigarettes. People smoke anyway, regardless of the nicotine content of the cigarette or the size of the packet. And if some paragraph should happen to affect their product range (say a flavour ban), it's not the end of the world. Although tobacco companies also sell e-cigs in the form of pod systems and disposable variants, this is still only a fraction of the range. What does it matter if only ONE flavour is allowed on the market? It doesn't. They've spent decades influencing legislation, adapting, and ultimately continuing to do so. sell authorised products, without having to worry about either harm or consequences.

Seal foetus and menthol

It is becoming increasingly clear that tobacco legislation is an element of the tobacco companies and today's tobacco prevention is moulded in and around their mould. They have built a huge market, filled to the brim with products, attracting new users for decades. It doesn't matter if they have to have dead seal foetuses on packaging (Incidentally, they add other flavourings such as vanilla and chocolate to the tobacco, without it seeming to bother the legislators - why don't we ever talk about it?) In addition, the smoking they live on is a cash cow for other pharmaceutical companies - stop-smoking products are a huge market.
So the tobacco companies survive - with the blessing of the anti-smoking lobby.

E-cigs are variation

Vaping companies have always exploited the weaknesses of tobacco and pharmaceutical companies: the crass uniformity and medicalised view of smokers. Vaping is based on passionate variety. It's borderline annoying (there's almost TOO much), but variety has been the mainstay and strength of the products. Choice in flavours, appearance, hot or cool, big or small, nicotine-free or nicotine-tinted, you name it. This has created a splendid range that far surpasses the somewhat rigid and streamlined business concept of the tobacco companies. These are brands that scream 'alternative' and therefore successfully entices many smokers to change their source of nicotine. The message is that smokers are not sick - they are people who like to enjoy life. And no, it is not poor 15-year-olds who are the target audience, it is well-established, working smokers who like to spend their money on nicotine.

Too little big business

Tobacco companies have been trying for years to enter this market. But it never really works out. Too much variety. And too many demands from consumers looking for constant change. Too much emotion, and too little business. None funny quarterly reports, rather.

And it couldn't go on like that forever.

Competing with variety and flavours

Since authorities and politicians decided to classify vaping products as tobacco products, there has only been one winner. What happens if vaping products are scaled down and lose their variety? Well, they suddenly lose any market advantage they ever had over their cigarette-selling competitors. 

On the tobacco companies' terms, the independent companies don't stand a chance. It's like a football match where one team is fully kitted out, is golf buddies with the referee and has a sauna with the linesman. The away team, on the other hand, is allowed to play without shoes and shin pads and performs the entire game. the match in heavy opposition. Who do you think will win that battle?

Substandard products = more smokers

I have no illusions about changing anything. But as a former smoker, who now vapes, and who also stood behind the till in a vape shop for many years, I know the enormous power of e-cigarettes to change the life of a smoker. That realisation does not change, despite the constant threat of ban on flavours, sky-high excise duties and despite legislation paving the way for way for tobacco companies' (so far) not very attractive electronic alternatives.

Changing the lives of smokers

Weaving is about passion and the will to change. It has been about a struggle against authority, whether that authority is in the hands of political lobby groups with their fingers in the medicinal jam jar of tobacco prevention., or authorities who like to think that e-juice is squeezed as juice from a tobacco plant.
Vaping is about changing the lives of smokers, by enticing them with something tastier than cigarettes.
And it can improve the performance of road haulage companies than all the doctors, stop-smoking lines and overpaid lobbyists combined. If only we allow it.

Stefan Mathisson
Editor-in-Chief Vejpkollen

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3 Comments on “Därför vinner tobaksjättarna – hela tiden

  1. Will absolutely support you via patreon, because what you do is so important I think. But right now it is a bit of an uphill battle but as soon as it levels out a bit, I will contribute to 100% if so the lowest contribution per month but it feels important for me to be able to support your work, Nowadays only share your message. fight on Stefan.

    1. Spreading the word about what I do is worth its weight in gold, Ken! It makes it all so much more fun!

  2. Incredibly good text and to the point.
    I even think it's so bad that authorities realise that they are throwing money at BIG TOBACCO and BIG PHARMA. I think they find it easier to control a few players than the diversified ecosystem that e-cigarettes represent.
    I think they are not even interested in right or wrong, not in morals and ethics or in what has the best chance of removing smoking from society. In their eyes, it is easier to slowly, slowly squeeze a few identified suppliers while sucking as much tax money as possible out of smokers, than to have to wage war on many fronts. Much easier to have BIG TOBACCO to blame and BIG PHARMA to praise, while pumping in as much money as possible.

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