Tobacco companies are trying to improve their image in a number of ways, NBC News reports. The effort includes promoting “smokeless” e-cigarettes, and the announcement that a subsidiary of Reynolds American is developing emergency Ebola treatments from tobacco plants.
During the past 50 years, cigarette consumption has been cut in half, the article notes. Some Wall Street analysts have predicted that e-cigarettes could outsell traditional cigarettes within the next 10 years.
Some brand consultants are skeptical that Big Tobacco can change consumers’ minds. They say tobacco companies’ talk about lower-risk products and harm reduction is unlikely to sway the public’s perceptions after five decades of federal health warnings about cigarettes and exposure to graphic anti-smoking ads.
People’s opinions are also likely to be influenced by legal cases against tobacco companies, the experts said. For example, in July, the widow of a chain smoker who died of lung cancer was awarded more than $23 billion in punitive damages by a Florida jury. The woman sued R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, claiming the company conspired to conceal cigarettes’ health dangers and addictive nature.
“Business transformation is like open-heart surgery — you’ve got to crack the ribs and remove some organs. It depends how serious they are,” said brand consultant Dean Crutchfield. “Is it an entirely new business model? True brand transformation involves the business as well. You can’t cover up the smell of inauthenticity.”