The tobacco industry has always had a polarizing effect on society. It’s criticized not only for the risks associated with tobacco usage, but also for the power of the companies within the industry to position themselves in society and dominate people’s lives. The industry is greatly concentrated between five main companies that individually make billions of dollars in sales every year. The marketing for tobacco products includes a rich history of targeting specific locations, in addition to racial and age groups, to better sell products through a blanket process of normalization.
Throughout the past decade of technical innovation within the smoking industry, vaping and e-cigarette use has been steadily gaining traction. Though electronic cigarettes technically pose a competitive threat to traditional tobacco products, Big Tobacco quickly capitalized on growing interest rather than dismissing it as a passing fad. They began producing their own vaping products as well as buying existing electronic smoking-related companies under their control to add to their expansive repertoire. Thus, the emergence of traditional alternatives as its own product class primarily comes from the aid of Big Tobacco’s intervention in the process early on.
Much like targeted tobacco marketing of the past, current marketing of electronic tobacco products involves the promotion of a wide range of appealing flavors on various multimedia platforms, effectively grabbing the attention of younger audiences. Constant exposure to these products, both due to their ample accessibility and flavorful desirability, have captured an audience that’s never been receptive to the traditional tobacco market before because of cigarettes’ cultural image and poor qualities like taste and smell. Those who have never before been involved with a single tobacco or nicotine product have become swept up in a new wave of tantalizing tobacco normalcy, reaping the almost inescapable consequence of some form of nicotine reliance or addiction. Today, electronic tobacco products have become the most well-received tobacco products among youth.
The response to a young generation’s captivation with the electronic tobacco industry has reasonably been a widespread fear of a nationwide youth nicotine addiction. This logical threat has ignited the fuse, sparking an adamant demand from state legislation and federal agencies for further regulation specifically targeting electronic tobacco products. In 2016, the FDA extended its regulatory authority to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah and pipe tobacco. More recently, it has proposed new steps designed to protect younger individuals by limiting access to flavored tobacco products as well as banning menthol in cigarettes. Conversely, state regulations on tobacco alternatives vary in extremity across states, yet no state is without some form of legislation entirely.
Big Tobacco’s expert utilization of targeted marketing and the complete monopolization of a specific industry have resulted in a coordinated control of copious quantities of the population by a number of companies one could count on a single hand. However, unlike other industries that might be restricted when subjugated to government regulations, the tobacco market and the select few who guide its invisible hand of market power can rest assured that their statuses and wallets are safe from any damage possibly caused by regulatory efforts.
The creation of mandated restrictions on electronic tobacco products doesn’t merely undo thousands of budding or unquenchable nicotine addictions, to which traditional tobacco products provide a remedy. Besides the irony of legislation aimed at a group plagued with many individuals past the point of no return, the monopolization of the industry ensures Big Tobacco’s protection regardless of government prohibition targets. These regulations do hurt the general distribution of electronic products, but also eliminate the competition the electronic tobacco industry has always posed against traditional products. Thus, the regulation of electronic tobacco products doesn’t hurt Big Tobacco’s stocks, as the incentive to buy traditional products increases instead. They provide a safety net for a newer and younger group’s nicotine needs while further propagating the wealth within the concentrated tobacco industry and cycle of societal nicotine addiction. Regardless of regulations’ specific target within the market, the moralistic demonization of the products and the widely acknowledged health effects, it’s always a win for Big Tobacco.
Miranda Jackson-Nudelman is a sophomore majoring in political science.