There are 1.3 billion tobacco users worldwide. That number would be even larger if tobacco didn’t kill half of its users. Every four seconds, tobacco takes another life. Decades of the tobacco industry’s deception and devious tactics have hooked generations of users to nicotine and tobacco, driving this global epidemic. The multi-billion-dollar industry recruits new tobacco and nicotine users to reward investors with as much profit as possible and keep its business alive. Tobacco and related industries have increasingly preyed on children and adolescents, employing advertising tactics and targeting them directly with a new portfolio of products that threaten their health. These industries are moving at a rapid speed to launch existing and new products and use every means to expand their market share before regulations can catch up with them. Tobacco and related industries continue to oppose evidence-based measures, such as increases in excise taxes and comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and have threatened legal actions against governments that try to protect the health of their citizens.
As awareness of the harms of tobacco use grew and global tobacco control efforts intensified over the last decade, social acceptability of tobacco use declined. This catalysed the tobacco industry to revisit old tactics to restore its tarnished reputation and secure a new generation of users.
The tobacco industry has made well-researched, calculated attempts to redesign and rebrand its products to sustain profitability. It introduced cigarette filters and the so-called “light” and “mild” tobacco products as an alternative to quitting, reducing tobacco users’ perceptions of risk and harm, and undermining effective tobacco control policies. Such misleading marketing continues today, with the industry advocating for the harm reduction approach through new products such as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS), commonly referred to as ‘e-cigarettes’, and heated tobacco products (HTPs).
E-cigarettes are often promoted as “reduced risk”, “smoke-free”, “socially acceptable” consumer products. These promotional strategies have the potential to renormalize smoking and drive long-term use of addictive nicotine products which, like tobacco, are undoubtedly harmful to the consumer, under the guise of being a healthier alternative. Tobacco and related industries exploit the fact that the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes have not been established and they are not yet regulated in most countries, enabling them to work around tobacco advertising bans and promote use of their products in smoke-free environments.
Some manufacturers also tend to talk about e-cigarettes with HTPs together, thereby confusing potential consumers, and making it difficult to tell the difference between a tobacco and a non-tobacco product. These social-positioning techniques, coupled with strategic marketing tactics, are particularly effective in targeting children and adolescents and have the potential to sustain nicotine addiction in youth globally.