Hostage to fortune: an empirical study of the tobacco industry’s business strategies since the advent of e-cigarettes

de Andrade, Marisa; Angus, Kathryn; Hastings, Gerard and Angelova, Nikolina (2018). Hostage to fortune: an empirical study of the tobacco industry’s business strategies since the advent of e-cigarettes. Critical Public Health pp. 1–14.



The tobacco market has been transformed by the arrival of e-cigarettes and array of alternative nicotine delivery systems (ANDS). Public health has struggled to cope with these changes and clear divisions are apparent, but less is known about the tobacco industry (TI) response. This first empirical study to examine TI and independent ANDS companies’ business strategies fills this gap. Primary data were collected through 28 elite interviews with senior/influential TI and independent stakeholders, triangulated with a documentary analysis of company reports, investor analyses, market research, and consultation responses (1022 documents). A deliberately emic analysis shows that tobacco multinationals were initially disconcerted by ANDS, but logic provided by the fiduciary imperative is enabling them to turn a potential threat into profitable opportunities. Interviewees argue market changes played to their strengths: customer links, expertise in nicotine, and enormous financial resources. This enabled portfolio diversification in which combustible and ANDS coexist; providing potential to develop robust scientific and regulatory positions and hope of retrieving corporate reputations. The principal threat for major tobacco players comes from the independent sector, which is prepared and able to satisfy bespoke consumer needs. Multinationals by contrast need to turn ANDS into a genuinely mass-market product appealing to its global customers. They are making progress. Given the continued buoyancy of the combustibles market, they have extensive resources to continue their efforts. Disruptive innovations are not unique to tobacco control. Equivalent technological solutions – with concomitant business opportunities − are emerging in obesity and alcohol fields with implications for public health.

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