Thank you to the University of Bath’s Tobacco Tactics website 1 for compiling much of the information used in this section.
One study estimated that in 2019, 23% of people across North America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania had ever tried e-cigarettes, and 11% were current users2 (see Section 18.3 for detailed prevalence figures), with almost all (90%) e-cigarette products sold globally made in China.3 Between 2014 and 2018 the value of the global e-cigarette market more than doubled from US$6.8 billion to over US$15.5 billion, and by 2021, it had increased to almost US$22.8 billion. North America is the largest e-cigarette market (US$7.8 billion in 2021), followed by Western Europe (US$6.5 billion in 2021). Within Western Europe, the e-cigarette market in the UK was worth more than US$2.9 billion in 2021.1
18.1.1 Product development
Although the concept of an electronic cigarette was first patented in the USA in 1965,4 it was not until 2003 that the first commercialised e-cigarette product was developed in China.5 E-cigarettes generally comprise four parts: the battery, the heating element, the vapourising chamber, and the solution cartridge. The battery supplies the power to the heating element, for it to become sufficiently warm to aerosolise the solution. The heating element is housed in a chamber, which also holds the aerosol until the user inhales. Some types of e-cigarettes allow users to control the voltage so they can select the amount of aerosol produced and nicotine concentration.6
There are a growing number of varieties of e-cigarettes and solutions, with evidence of large variability between the labelled content and the actual content and concentrations.7 Differences in battery voltage and unit circuitry can create significant variances in the products’ ability to aerosolise the solution, and consequently the amount of nicotine and other constituents delivered to the user. Individual user behaviour, such as the length, depth, and frequency of puffs might also affect nicotine absorption (see Section 18.5.4). Users can also modify many of the products, allowing them to alter delivery of nicotine and/or other drugs.8
First-generation, disposable ‘cig-a-likes’ (which resemble tobacco cigarettes) were increasingly displaced by second- and third-generation refillable tank systems and e-liquids, which deliver higher doses of nicotine.9 Fourth-generation ‘pod mods’, such as JUUL, include a prefilled or refillable pod or cartridge. Although these are the most popular device type, single-use, disposable e-cigarettes such as Puff Bar are rapidly increasing in popularity. In the US, between August 2019 and May 2020, the proportion of total sales that was disposable products doubled from 10.3% to 19.8%, while the proportion that was prefilled cartridge products decreased from 89.4% to 80.2%.10 Sales of high nicotine-strength e-cigarettes have also increased, and dominate the US market. In March 2022, the majority of total unit (80.9%) and dollar (79.5%) sales were for products containing ≥5% nicotine strength. Disposable e-cigarettes and prefilled cartridges all increased in nicotine strength between 2017 and 2022, with most disposable e-cigarettes and prefilled cartridges for sale in 2022 having nicotine strength ≥5%.11
18.1.2 Independent e-cigarette companies
Historically, the e-cigarette market was highly fragmented and largely dominated by small start-up companies.1 NJOY—a company independent of the tobacco industry—was the unrivalled market leader in 2012, but had filed for bankruptcy by the end of 2016.9 In the US, British American Tobacco sales surged in 2014 and led into 2017.12 However, by the end of 2017, JUUL (a sleek, portable e-cigarette that resembles a USB flash drive made by JUUL Labs) rapidly became the largest retail e-cigarette brand in the US,12 and substantially increased sales of the entire e-cigarette category.13 In 2018, JUUL accounted for more than two-thirds of the US e-cigarette market.14 In December 2018, it was announced Altria was buying a 35 percent stake in Juul15 (see 18.1.3, below).However, regulatory challenges, especially in the US, have led to JUUL’s share of the market declining since 2020. Since 2017, Chinese manufacturer RELX Technology has nearly doubled its yearly share of the global market to 9% in 2021, giving it the third largest share of any company, after BAT and JUUL.1 EVO Brands—which manufactures Puff Bars—had the next largest share after RELX in 2021, with 1.7% of the global market.1
18.1.3 Tobacco industry investment in e-cigarettes
In response to declining smoking prevalence, transnational tobacco companies have increasingly diversified their product lines to include ‘reduced harm’ alternative nicotine products. Some have questioned the ethics and motives of such diversification, with tobacco companies profiting from smokers, new nicotine users, and would-be quitters.16
Although initially slow to enter the market, the major international tobacco companies have invested heavily in e-cigarettes, and tobacco companies now own many of the top e-cigarette brands.9 Figure 18.1.1, below, shows the tobacco industry’s initial entry into the e-cigarette market:
Figure 18.1.1 Tobacco industry investment in non-cigarette nicotine products
Source: Tobacco Control Research Group, Tobacco industry investment in non-cigarette nicotine products. TobaccoTactics.org, University of Bath.
Acquisitions and investments by the tobacco industry include the following:
- British American Tobacco (BAT) acquired CN Creative in 2012, a start-up that developed the ‘Vype’ e-cigarette. BAT went on to launch Vype in the UK in 2013, and in France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Colombia in 2015. In 2015, BAT acquired the e-cigarette brands Ten Motives in the UK and CHIC in Poland.1 In 2017, BAT acquired Reynolds American for $49 billion, and reportedly expressed particular interest in the company's next generation products, including its best-selling US e-cigarette brand, Vuse.16 In 2018, BAT launched a new vaping device in the UK—the Vype iSwitch– which was reportedly designed to delivered nicotine to the user in a more efficient manner.17 In subsequent years BAT continued to acquire more independent e-cigarette companies, and developed a range of products under the Vype and Vuse brands. In 2020, BAT began consolidating the two brands as Vuse. In 2022 it launched a disposable product, Vuse Go.1
- Lorillard, the third-largest cigarette manufacturer in the US, acquired the e-cigarette company blu eCigs for a reported $135 million in 2012. It also acquired Skycig, a leading brand of e-cigarettes in Britain, for $48.5 million, allowing it to enter the UK market. Skycig then became blu eCigs in May 2014, with the support of a £20 million marketing campaign. When RJ Reynolds acquired Lorillard in 2014, Imperial Tobacco purchased its blu line to avoid antitrust concerns that RJ Reynolds owning both Vuse and blu would give it an unfair advantage in the market.1
- Japan Tobacco International (JTI) entered the e-cigarette market in 2011 by investing in the start-up Ploom Inc. (now known as JUUL Labs). In 2014 it acquired UK e-cigarette brand E-lites from previous owner Zandera. E-Lites was one of the leading e-cigarette brands in the UK, and the first to be available in the four biggest supermarkets. In 2015, it acquired US company Logic, and from 2016, E-Lites was rebranded as Logic. JTI has since focused on marketing its Logic e-cigarettes.1
- Fontem Ventures (a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco) acquired Dragonite in August 2013, which was previously owned by the Chinese pharmacist who invented the modern e-cigarette. In early 2014, Imperial presented its own e-cigarette called Puritane. Imperial also purchased the blu e-cigs line as part of the merger between Reynolds and Lorillard in 2014. In February 2015, Imperial announced the launch of its new e-cigarette, Jai, in France and Italy.1
- Philip Morris International (PMI) announced in December 2013 that it was joining with Altria to market e-cigarettes and other ‘reduced risk’ tobacco products. PMI gained the right to exclusively sell Altria's e-cigarettes outside the US. In 2014, PMI acquired UK-based Nicocigs, the owner of the Nicolites brand, claiming that it would provide immediate entry to the UK market for these and any other e-cigarette products.1 In 2018, PMI launched its own e-cigarette, the IQOS Mesh, which heats disposable sealed pods.18 Mesh was relaunched as VEEV in 2020. In 2022, PMI launched a disposable e-cigarette called VEEBA.1 However, PMI has focused more heavily on the heated tobacco product market—see InDepth 18B.
- Altria, which owns Philip Morris USA and controls about one half of all cartons sold in America, launched its e-cigarette ‘MarkTen’ in 2013. In 2014, Altria also acquired the e-cigarette manufacturer Green Smoke.1 In late 2018, Altria announced it had invested close to $13 billion in order to acquire a 35% stake in JUUL Labs Inc. By June 2022, this investment was reported to be worth only US$450 million.1
Despite investments by tobacco companies, independent e-cigarette companies have maintained a larger share of the global market. However, this has fluctuated over time, from over 80% in 2014–2016 down to about 56% in 2019. The market share of independent companies has begun rising again in the past few years, probably due to the withdrawal of JUUL from some markets.1
Table 18.1.1 Tobacco Company Shares of the Global Market (%), by retail value, 2014–2021
Source: University of Bath, Tobacco Tactics1
18.1.4 Lobbying for favourable regulation
The market size of e-cigarettes can be affected by national regulations on the sale and use of the products. Countries with the most restrictive policies tend to have lower e-cigarette use;19 however poor enforcement of even very tight regulations—as is the case in Australia20 (see Section 18.13)—as well as industry influence and lobbying has led to rapidly increasing and widespread use, particularly among young people.
In Australia, major tobacco companies including Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco have reportedly lobbied federal government MPs—both directly and indirectly—to overturn the current ban on the retail sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine. Lobbyists from tobacco companies have reportedly met with federal MPs who have advocated federal enquiries into e-cigarettes and who support widespread availability of the products. Tobacco companies have also donated directly to the National Party and the Liberal National Party (see Section 10A.7), and have indirectly donated to sympathetic groups such as the Australian Retailers Association in order to lobby for the deregulation of e-cigarettes.21 , 22 The Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association (ATHRA), which has led lobbying efforts to legalise nicotine e-cigarettes, reportedly accepted initial funding from e-cigarette companies23 as well as funding from an overseas group that had received money from tobacco companies.24
Relevant news and research
For recent news items and research on this topic, click here. ( Last updated August 2022)
1. Tobacco Tactics. E-cigarettes. 2023. Available from: https://tobaccotactics.org/wiki/e-cigarettes/
2. Tehrani H, Rajabi A, Ghelichi-Ghojogh M, Nejatian M, and Jafari A. The prevalence of electronic cigarettes vaping globally: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch Public Health, 2022; 80(1):240. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/36415010
3. Technavio. Global E-Cigarette Market 2016-2020. 2016. Available from: https://www.technavio.com/report/global-health-and-wellness-e-cigarette-market
4. Gilbert HA. Smokeless non-tobacco cigarette, 1965, Google Patents. Available from: https://www.google.com/patents/US3200819.
5. Grana R, Benowitz N, and Glantz SA. Background paper on e-cigarettes (electronic nicotine delivery systems), 2013. Available from: http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/13p2b72n.
6. Orellana-Barrios MA, Payne D, Mulkey Z, and Nugent K. Electronic cigarettes–a narrative review for clinicians. American Journal of Medicine, 2015; 128(7):674–81. Available from: https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(15)00165-5/pdf
7. Cheng T. Chemical evaluation of electronic cigarettes. Tobacco Control, 2014; 23 Suppl 2:ii11–7. Available from: https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/tobaccocontrol/23/suppl_2/ii11.full.pdf
8. World Health Organization (WHO), Electronic nicotine delivery systems. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Moscow, Russian Federation 2014. Available from: http://apps.who.int/gb/fctc/PDF/cop6/FCTC_COP6_10-en.pdf?ua=1.
9. Bauld L, Angus K, de Andrade M, and Ford A, Electronic cigarette marketing: current research and policy. Cancer Research UK; 2016. Available from: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/electronic_cigarette_marketing_report_final.pdf.
10. Ali FRM, Diaz MC, Vallone D, Tynan MA, Cordova J, et al. E-cigarette Unit Sales, by Product and Flavor Type - United States, 2014-2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2020; 69(37):1313-8. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32941416
11. Ali FRM, Seaman EL, Crane E, Schillo B, and King BA. Trends in US E-cigarette Sales and Prices by Nicotine Strength, Overall and by Product and Flavor Type, 2017-2022. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2022. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/36580384
12. King BA, Gammon DG, Marynak KL, and Rogers T. Electronic Cigarette Sales in the United States, 2013-2017. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2018; 320(13):1379-80. Available from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2705175
13. Huang J, Duan Z, Kwok J, Binns S, Vera LE, et al. Vaping versus JUULing: how the extraordinary growth and marketing of JUUL transformed the US retail e-cigarette market. Tobacco Control, 2018. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/tobaccocontrol/early/2018/05/31/tobaccocontrol-2018-054382.full.pdf
14. Guzman Z. Juul surpasses Facebook as fastest startup to reach decacorn status. Yahoo Finance, 2018. Available from: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/juul-surpasses-facebook-fastest-startup-reach-decacorn-status-153728892.html
15. Myers M. Altria-Juul Deal Is Alarming Development for Public Health and Shows Need for Strong FDA Regulation, in Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids,2018: WASHINGTON, D.C. Available from: https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/press-releases/2018_12_20_altria_juul.
16. Hendlin YH, Elias J, and Ling PM. The Pharmaceuticalization of the Tobacco Industry. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2017. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568794/pdf/nihms883981.pdf
17. Mathis W. BAT Launches High-Tech Vape in UK to Fend Off Juul, IQOS. Bloomberg, 2018. Available from: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-12-11/bat-launches-high-tech-vape-in-the-u-k-to-fend-off-juul-iqos
18. Philip Morris International. E-Vapor Products. 2018. Available from: https://www.pmi.com/smoke-free-products/mesh-taking-e-cigarettes-further.
19. Sreeramareddy CT, Acharya K, and Manoharan A. Electronic cigarettes use and 'dual use' among the youth in 75 countries: estimates from Global Youth Tobacco Surveys (2014-2019). Scientific Reports, 2022; 12(1):20967. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/36470977
20. Dessaix A, Jardine E, Freeman B, and Kameron C. Undermining Australian controls on electronic nicotine delivery systems: illicit imports and illegal sales. Tobacco Control, 2022; 31(6):689-90. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/36265869
21. Chenoweth N. Vapers’ facelift: new pitch, same sponsors. Financial Review, 2022. Available from: https://www.afr.com/rear-window/vapers-facelift-new-pitch-same-sponsors-20220628-p5ax9k
22. Chenoweth N. The secret money trail behind vaping. Financial Review, 2021.
23. Han E. Secret industry funding of doctor-led vaping lobby group laid bare. The Sydney Morning Herald, 2018. Available from: https://www.smh.com.au/healthcare/secret-industry-funding-of-doctor-led-vaping-lobby-group-laid-bare-20180823-p4zzc5.html
24. Han E. 'Independent' doctor-led vaping group accepts tobacco-tainted funding. Brisbane Times, 2018. Available from: https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/healthcare/independent-doctor-led-vaping-group-accepts-tobacco-tainted-funding-20181004-p507rq.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_feed