I have tried to get my mother to stop smoking for years. She isn’t a pack a day smoker, but she acts on her vice daily. I’m concerned about her health and she is too. She wants to quit because she knows the research behind the perils of smoking. Long gone are the ad campaigns of the 1950s, where the Don Draper’s of the industry toted the “health benefits” of cigarettes and tobacco. In today’s society the negative effects of smoking are widely known and are incorporated in standard education.
Even with the abundance of research and information available to the public, the retail value of cigarettes sold globally in 2013 was $722 billion. Despite the enormous value of the global cigarette market, sales have fallen in the United States. Factors of the decline include stronger legislative restrictions and more educated consumers, as well as rising cigarette prices. All of which are bad for business. An even bigger hit to the profits of big tobacco has been the introduction of the E-cigarette. A cheaper, smokeless, and “healthier” alternative to boxed cigarettes, the E-cigarette market is becoming larger and larger. Smaller companies saw a way to infiltrate the cigarette market without having to compete with the cigarette behemoths like Altria (maker of Malboros) and Reynolds American (maker of Camels and Kool). The big tobacco companies have started to enter the E-cigarette market as a way to profit while bypassing the poor press and movements against cigarette consumption.
How have the extensive and well-paid marketing teams of the big tobacco companies planned to compete in the fledgling E-cigarette market?
They have done something unheard of in the tobacco industry. They have begun to run voluntary and extensive warnings on the packaging of their E-cigarette products. The text goes beyond the normal involuntary Surgeon General’s caveat. It warns people with heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure against smoking and then goes one step further by cautioning that nicotine can cause side effects such as dizziness, nausea, and can worsen asthma. At first glance, warning against product use seems counterintuitive. Who is going to use a product that states right on its packaging that it could harm and even kill you? That’s where the marketing strategies come into play. Big tobacco’s marketing team knows its customers and knows that those who smoke will continue to smoke regardless of warning signs. It also knows that the warning labels are low-risk as they likely won’t be read or heeded. The marketing teams have targeted the “health-conscious” consumers of E-cigarettes and made themselves more honest, open, and responsible than their smaller competitors in one fell-swoop.
Furthermore, the strategy looks to lessen the impact of outside factors like future government regulations on E-cigarettes. By preemptively including the warning labels, they have branded themselves as more legitimate to consumers as well as more cooperative with legislators, something that big tobacco has sought for decades.
While I can appreciate the marketing talent that went into this campaign, my own biases have to suspect the cynical side of this transparent marketing. It seems that it will only give big tobacco the edge it needs to dominate and further promote the nicotine market.