It’s been a bit over five years since Big Tobacco entered the e-cigarette industry with Lorillard’s purchase of Blu Cigs in 2012. The other Big Tobacco companies soon followed suit, and the vaping industry changed forever. Convenience stores, gas stations and markets — once havens for a variety of local and regional e-cigarette brands — soon carried seemingly nothing but Vuse, Blu and MarkTen.
Facing competition from companies with bottomless wallets — and the beginning of FDA regulation — many of the smallest e-cigarette companies closed up shop. The vaping industry consolidated, and the user base became more fragmented. Never before has there been as large a gap in the vaping devices used by beginners and experienced vapers as there is right now.
Buying habits have changed, too. Although the e-cigarette industry started primarily online, most brick-and-mortar stores that carry tobacco products now carry e-cigarettes as well. If you use an e-cigarette from a Big Tobacco company, there’s little reason to buy your refills online. You can get them for the same price from a local store. Many experienced vapers also buy all of their e-liquids and other supplies locally since practically everyone has a vape shop within driving distance. Online-only sellers have definitely felt the sting, but companies with unique products and strong value propositions still do as well as they always have.
So, after all of the tobacco company mergers and acquisitions that have taken place over the past few years, who owns the e-cigarette companies these days? How is Big Tobacco approaching the vaping industry in 2017? We thought we’d check in with some of the world’s biggest e-cigarette brands and see what they’re doing in the current market.
Who Owns Vuse? British American Tobacco
Remember when the term “Vuse” only referred to a cigalike? The Vuse line has grown. The original cigalike is now called the Vuse Solo. The line has expanded to include the Vuse Vibe — a vape pen that uses larger tanks — and the Vuse Fob, a mod that uses Vuse Solo cartridges but features Bluetooth connectivity and a screen that reports the remaining battery charge and cartridge capacity.
Vuse became a brand of British American Tobacco when BAT acquired Reynolds American in 2017.
Who Owns iQOS? Philip Morris International
Have you ever tried Eclipse cigarettes? The tobacco companies have tried for years to make a “safer” cigarette that heats tobacco rather than burning it. With new devices such as iQOS, it looks like they may actually be close to releasing something that will really catch on with smokers. It seems likely that the tobacco companies are banking on heat-not-burn technology finding favor with people who might otherwise switch from smoking to vaping. The technology, after all, isn’t that different.
The iQOS system is a battery-operated device that looks a bit like a wide pen or marker. You use it by inserting a tube that Philip Morris calls a HeatStick. HeatSticks look almost like regular filtered cigarettes, and they’re already available in some markets under well-known brand names like Marlboro. The difference between HeatSticks and cigarettes is that HeatSticks contain propylene glycol. The iQOS device heats the HeatStick to just below the temperature at which the tobacco would burn. The propylene glycol turns to vapor, and you inhale the vapor to get an experience that’s a bit like smoking.
Most people who already vape probably won’t find heat-not-burn cigarettes terribly interesting. For the millions who still smoke, though, it looks as though the technology might present an interesting alternative to combustible cigarettes.
Philip Morris International expects iQOS to be available in the United States before the end of 2017.
Who Owns glo iFuse? British American Tobacco
While iQOS seems to be the heat-not-burn cigarette that’s capturing the most attention right now, glo iFuse is another potentially interesting technology. It seems that it’s available only in Romania presently. While iQOS seems a bit more like smoking than vaping — HeatSticks are essentially cigarettes, after all — glo iFuse is practically an e-cigarette. The difference between glo iFuse and a standard e-cigarette is that the e-liquid, once vaporized, passes through a chamber of tobacco before it enters the mouth. The tobacco may flavor the vapor in a way that wouldn’t be possible with standard tobacco extracts.
Cartridges for the glo iFuse are available under the Kent brand name.
Who Owns Blu? Imperial Brands
One of the first cigalikes to gain mainstream popularity, Blu has changed hands again since Lorillard purchased the company in 2012. In 2014, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company — a subsidiary of Reynolds American — puchased Lorillard. To avoid potential antitrust concerns, Reynolds sold the brands Winston, Salem, Kool and Blu to Imperial Brands as part of the Lorillard acquisition. Reynolds itself was later acquired by British American Tobacco.
Blu’s product offerings have also changed a bit. Although Blu’s flavor selection is much the same as it was, Johnson Creek Smoke Juice no longer manufactures the e-liquids. Johnson Creek is itself half owned by the tobacco company Republic Tobacco. Blu’s primary product is still a cigalike. Blu sells both rechargeable and disposable variations. Blu has also added a vape pen and bottled e-liquids to its lineup.
Who Owns MarkTen? Altria
With the exception of some new flavors — the line now features eight flavors in all — MarkTen doesn’t appear to have changed since its introduction in 2014. MarkTen looks like a fairly standard KR-808 e-cigarette, but the top of the cartridge has four openings rather than one. The marketing materials for the MarkTen seem to suggest that the extra openings allow more vapor to escape the cartridge.
Altria — the parent company of Philip Morris USA — is no longer the parent company of Philip Morris International, the owner of iQOS. Philip Morris International was spun off as a separate company in 2008 and does not sell products in the United States.
Who Owns Logic? Japan Tobacco
Logic had one of the largest brick-and-mortar distribution networks of any independent American e-cigarette vendor until Japan Tobacco purchased the company in 2015. Japan Tobacco also purchased the E-Lites brand in the United Kingdom around the same time, giving the company a major presence in the vaping industry on both sides of the Atlantic.
Logic’s products include a cigalike, a vape pen with pre-filled tanks and a vape pen with a refillable tank.
Who Owns V2 Cigs? Independent
With the future of NJOY uncertain, V2 Cigs is perhaps the last of the great American independent cigalike sellers. V2 has evolved its original cigalike platform to feature one of the industry’s best battery and cartridge designs. V2 has also entered the heat-not-burn market with the release of the V2 Pro Series 3 and V2 Pro Series 7. Both products can vaporize e-liquid and loose-leaf tobacco. It remains to be seen whether smokers who want to use heat-not-burn technology will gravitate more toward vaporizers or technologies such as iQOS. V2 seems pretty well positioned, though, for whatever the future may bring.
In 2015, VMR Products — the parent company of V2 Cigs — received an investment of $23 million from Chinese company Huabao International Holdings. It is unclear what considerations — such as company equity — Huabao received in return. Huabao owns companies that manufacture reconstituted tobacco. Reconstituted tobacco is a paper-like material made from non-leaf portions of tobacco such as stems. It’s used as a filler in cigarettes. Huabao is not a cigarette maker, nor is tobacco the company’s primary business.
Who Owns Green Smoke? Altria
Altria purchased Green Smoke in 2014. Since then, Green Smoke’s product lineup hasn’t noticeably changed. Green Smoke is still a cigalike based on the KR-808 platform.
Who Owns NJOY? Homewood NJOY Acquisition LLC
Until NJOY filed for bankruptcy protection in 2016, they were one of the last independent e-cigarette companies still making innovative developments in the field of cigalikes. NJOY was purchased during bankruptcy proceedings and appears to be back in business, although it is unclear whether NJOY’s new owners have resolved all outstanding issues with creditors.