The World Health Organisation has called for the regulation of electronic cigarettes as both tobacco and medical products. Ciara Lee looks at the impact of the move on the tobacco industry.
Sales have rocked in the past two years and electronic cigarettes could be more popular than conventional ones by 2020 But the World Health Organisation would rather they were stubbed out - fearing they could be addictive. It's calling for tougher regulation including bans on indoor use, advertising and sales to under 18s. So what would that mean for the $3 billion e-cigarette market - at the moment largely in the hands of the big tobacco firms? Imperial Tobacco, Altria Group, Philip Morris International, and British American Tobacco, have all launched e-cigarettes to make up for a fall in sales of conventional ones in Western markets. It's still small fry - for most ecigarettes account for less than one percent of sales in the 780 billion dollar industry. But it's where the companies see opportunity. Shane MacGuill is a tobacco analyst at Euromonitor. (SOUNDBITE) (English) TOBACCO ANALYST AT EUROMONITOR, SHANE MACGUILL, SAYING: "In the future things like e-cigarettes and cigarette type alternative products will become increasingly important for the tobacco industry, as consumers in Western markets are looking for healthier alternatives. They are also becoming increasingly price sensitive as tobacco consumers as well." Some argue that the tobacco giants are exploiting the e-cigarette market to improve their tarnished image. But e-cigarettes could help them in other ways too - gaining access to the world's largest tobacco market for one. (SOUNDBITE) (English) TOBACCO ANALYST AT EUROMONITOR, SHANE MACGUILL, SAYING: "The Chinese industry is dominated by the state owned manufacturers there. It's possible that the development and the production of e-cigarettes and those types of products, could give international manufacturers access to the Chinese market." The EU has already agreed to requirements around advertising and packaging. And the U.S has also taken action over sales to young people. But heated debated is expected at a WHO meeting in October, with scientists divided over the risks and potential benefits of the controversial product.