Hostage to fortune: an empirical study of the tobacco industry's business strategies since the advent of E-cigarettes
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University of Edinburgh, School of Health in Social Science, United Kingdom
UK Center for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, United Kingdom
University of Stirling, United Kingdom
University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Publication date: 2018-03-01
Tob. Induc. Dis. 2018;16(Suppl 1):A94
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The tobacco market has been transformed by e-cigarettes and alternative nicotine delivery systems (ANDS). Despite speculation about the tobacco industry's (TI) business intentions regarding these developments, there is little empirical evidence. This study with industry stakeholders - tobacco and independents − addresses this.

Empirical data synthesis using strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats framework. Primary data from a unique dataset of elite interviews with TI and independents (n=28) triangulated against secondary data (n=1,022) including company reports, investor/market research analyses, press releases, government consultations (n=170).

Tobacco multinationals were taken by surprise by e-cigarettes. Clarity provided by the fiduciary imperative has enabled them to turn a threat into profitable opportunities. Companies have calculated that ANDS play to their strengths - customer links, expertise in nicotine and, thanks to tobacco, immense financial resources. This enables multiple opportunities: diversification into broader product portfolios where combustible and alternative products coexist; new long-term strategic goals; scientific and regulatory stature developments; retrieving corporate reputations; collaboration with public health. ANDS are reducing the TI's existing weaknesses, especially poor standing among consumers and stakeholders.

Far from undermining companies, ANDS have made the TI stronger and ensured it will flourish. The arbiter of success will be the marketplace, not health ministry. If ANDS become more profitable than combustibles, they will prevail with reduction in health harms provided safe and effective. If combustibles retain an economic edge, they and their collateral will continue for many years. The latter is more likely in poorer countries where tobacco seems set to remain the most affordable option. The TI is gaining dominance over research and emerging evidence. Thus future judgements about relative merits of tobacco control products/approaches; about where harm is genuinely reduced or inadvertently increased, will largely depend on TI data/expertise. In this way tobacco control will become hostage to both the fortune and fidelity of the TI.

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