Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Big Tobacco's new e-cig warning labels are not what they look like

MarkTen e-cigarette packages now feature a 117-word warning (http://goo.gl/2WHa7z). The full warning can be found on MarkTen's website and goes like this:
This product is not a smoking cessation product and has not been tested as such. This product is intended for use by persons of legal age or older, and not by children, women who are pregnant or breast feeding, or persons with or at risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or taking medicine for depression or asthma. Nicotine is addictive and habit forming, and it is very toxic by inhalation, in contact with the skin, or if swallowed. Nicotine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and cause dizziness, nausea, and stomach pain. Inhalation of this product may aggravate existing respiratory conditions. Ingestion of the non-vaporized concentrated ingredients in the cartridges can be poisonous.
It's kind of weird that MarkTen and other Big Tobacco companies choose to put warnings on their products that are several decrees more severe than the warnings on their tobacco products, especially when it's not even required by regulation. So what do they hope to achieve with this?

The New York times thinks this is to appear more responsible, open and frank and to insulate themselves against future lawsuits. I think this is an explanation Big Tobacco really likes and can live with, cause wanting to be more responsible and making sure they don't get sued in the future sounds like a reasonable strategy and it doesn't really hurt someone. Sounds like the responsible thing to do.

But I believe that one has to look at what the possible effect of such warnings to see what Big Tobaccos real reasons behind them are. I can think of several rather dangerous effects that would suit Big Tobacco perfectly:
  • Even though the warnings are only on Big Tobacco's products, people will draw the conclusion that these warnings apply to all e-cigarette and vaping products. Remember also that Big Tobacco's cig-alikes are entry level products... a lot of vapers start out with them. And according to "Motherboard", Big Tobacco has officially lost its hold on the e-cigarette market: http://goo.gl/1WX9sG. Such warning will serve to keep the customers in a market that Big Tobacco is not loosing, the cigarette market.
  • I think Big Tobacco is trying to set a standard on how warnings will look like if they get required by regulations in the future. Such warnings will, as mentioned above, stop some people from buying and using the products. For an independent e-cigarette manufacturer this means loosing customers, but for Big Tobacco it doesn't. They will keep their customers, because the customer is already a smoker. 
  • I've written earlier that e-cigarettes work as a firewall, protecting young potential customers of Big Tobacco from the dangers of cigarette smoking. Such warnings would weaken this firewall effect, and make it easier for Big Tobacco to gain new customers in their cigarette market. 
In other words, I don't think Big Tobacco is issuing this warnings just to appear responsible and avoid lawsuits (although it's a nice side-effect), but I think they're doing it to weaken, or ultimately try to get rid of the competition. Big Tobacco has used a lot of money to get into the e-cigarette market, but looking at their morale track record I think it would be pretty naive to think they are doing this because they suddenly realized what they've done and want to make up for it. If you have a closer look at how they are behaving and navigating in the market, you'll see that their actions are not exactly helping the cause. This latest warning labels are a good example and it also gives us a clue to why they've chosen to stay in, and try to get as much control as possible in, the entry level market: Stopping people from switching is the best way of keeping them smoking right? Or even worse: Making teens believe that e-cigarettes are worse than cigarette might lead them to start smoking instead of trying an e-cigarette.

Not everything is what it looks like eyh?

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