Well, this was as predictable as the day is long.
I wrote a few days ago about how Altria is expanding its business to marijuana. Altria, which already owns the e-cigarette brand MarkTen, is now making a move to buy into the biggest e-cigarette brand out there, Juul.
It’s interesting. A lot of people think e-cigarettes and cigarettes are somehow in competition. Nothing could be further from the truth. They’re really two sides of the same coin, doing a cutesy little dance around each other.
At one time, Big Tobacco controlled about 80 percent of the e-cigarette market. Altria had MarkTen, RJ Reynolds controlled Blu for a while, then Blu was sold to and controlled by Imperial Brands, a subsidiary of Philip Morris. Meanwhile, RJ Reynolds kept control of Vuse. Those three brands constituted about 80 percent of the e-cigarette market.
So, no, e-cigarettes were not competing with Big Tobacco. E-cigarettes WERE Big Tobacco. All those people usuing e-cigarettes to get off cigarettes. All those people using e-cig to say “F U” to the tobacco industry. Hey, you were giving your money to the same CEOs. Big Tobacco was selling you both the disease and the cure.
Then, along came Juul to overturn the apple cart. Juul is a relatively new player in the e-cigarette market and sometime around 2017, this company started dominating the e-cig industry, pushing down Big Tobacco’s share in the market. Juul’s share got up to 75 percent. They did this in about two years.
Now, Altria is following the Big Tobacco playbook. When you can’t beat them in the marketplace, simply buy them out.
Juuls are incredibly convenient. They look exactly like a computer flash drive. They can charge up by plugging them into a laptop. And the flavour viles are little and easy to use.
Juuls are controversial with a lot of people in the tobacco control industry because the company, much like Blu, was pretty fucking brazen about marketing to teens. Juul relied heavily on social media to market itself and they got themselve in the crosshairs big time not only of the tobacco control community, but of the FDA. After the FDA started suggesting that it was cracking down on e-cigs because of the explosion of e-cig use by teenagers, Juul very quickly abandoned all of its social media accounts and announced that it would no longer sell many of its fruity and surgary flavours.
Along comes Altria to save the day. Altria, the parent company behind what used to be known as Philip Morris, is abandoning its failed MarkTen product.
According to this CNBC article, Altria is looking at buying a “significant” share of Juul. And again, we follow the same pattern as Blu and MarkTen and Vuse.
Now, this news came out around the same time as the FDA announced that it was cracking down on e-cigs, mostly by requiring that e-cigs be sold in areas closed off to minors, and Juul shut down its social media accounts. We all know Altria has a long, long history of playing cutesy with the “Marketing to teens? Moi? Never!” game that Juul and every other e-cig brand has copied from.
I see this as Altria evolving and trying to stay an active player in the nicotine addiction game, via e-cigs and international marekts. (And my concern about Altria getting involved in marijuana is over the company cooking up schemes to add nicotine to marijuana to make it more addictive). This is a multi-billion dollar corporation that has no plans of simply slinking off into the sunset.