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‘Beyond nicotine’ marketing strategies: Big Tobacco diversification into the vaping and cannabis product sectors
  1. Timothy Dewhirst
  1. Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies, Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Professor Timothy Dewhirst, Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies, Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada; dewhirst{at}

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Tobacco sales in Canada and the USA have stagnated.1 2 Although denormalisation strategies have reframed smoking (and smokers) as socially unacceptable,3–6 these attitudes appear to apply uniquely to smoked tobacco. Cannabis now represents notable opportunities for tobacco companies, with recreational cannabis becoming legalised federally in Canada (effective October 2018) and increasingly at the state level in the USA. While the social acceptability of cigarette smoking has declined over time, cannabis use has become chic and desirable. For example, Barneys—a set of high-end US department stores that were known for selling designer handbags, shoes and clothing—offered a ‘Lifestyle Shop’ of luxury cannabis products and accessories in strategic efforts to appeal to ‘status seekers’.7 According to Barneys’ website, ‘It’s no secret that there has been a huge cultural shift when it comes to cannabis. What was once taboo is now being embraced as part of the wellness routine of a variety of lifestyles, and it’s led to a burgeoning new industry’.8

Not surprisingly, tobacco companies have invested in the nascent cannabis sector. Altria, for example, invested $2.4 billion to acquire a 45% ownership stake in the Canadian cannabis company, Cronos.9 British American Tobacco (BAT), meanwhile, acquired a nearly 20% stake in Organigram, which is also a Canada-based cannabis company. Cannabis is a sector where tobacco companies can leverage their compatible strengths, which include well-established supply chain and distribution channels, global reach, expertise regarding mergers and acquisitions, and experience with navigating within stringent regulatory environments (figure 1).10 According to David O’Reilly, BAT’s Director of Scientific Research, …

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  • Contributors TD was the sole contributor to the writing and analysis of the study.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests TD is an Associate Editor of Tobacco Control with respect to product marketing and promotion. He has also served as an expert witness in tobacco litigation for plaintiff counsel in class action lawsuits as well as for governments whose policies regarding the marketing and promotion of tobacco, vaping or cannabis products were challenged on constitutional grounds.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.