Insights Preslav Tonkov

The Juul in the Crown

Thank you for vaping

The original ‘sin’ stock since the 1950s, the tobacco industry is at risking of blowing a premium opportunity to reinvent itself. The development of low-harm products, those that vaporise and heat tobacco rather than burn it, have offered the pariah sector a chance to secure a sustainable future.

Campaigners, however have continued to dog the industry for targeting children with a new set of products that could have health consequences.  This week they appeared to find their smoking gun with the outbreak of a mysterious lung disease that has allegedly killed at least six people and left hundreds hospitalised. By contrast, standard tobacco products are responsible for 480,000 deaths per year in the United States.

Vaping companies such as Juul have been criticised for hooking children on e-cigarettes with flavours such as mango and cream. The surge in underage vaping, which U.S. health officials have labelled as an “epidemic,” is one of the reasons why President Trump this week threatened to ban them — at least until the FDA can thoroughly review their safety.

Response? Big Tobacco has either failed to address the under-age use of their products, or it has been indifferent to it.

Impact? The days of the Marlboro man are long gone. Undoubtedly, Big Tobacco is attempting to seize this opportunity. Vaping is Big Tobacco’s opportunity to sustainably reinvent itself as exemplified by Philip Morris International’s smoke free future initiative. Altria’s $12.8 bn investment in Juul is also a testament to that. However, such investments have not been accompanied by a sustained effort to change public perception, particularly in relation to this week’s ban.

Vaping can become the poster child for the tobacco industry, but this requires a sustained effort by the tobacco industry to own the narrative around it’s own future. Vaping is an alternative to smoking and its public relations effort must ensure that this new venture is not tarred with the same brush.