Big Tobacco foresees the end of the market for traditional cigarettes, a market in continual decline with revenues propped up by raising pack prices. Over the last 12 months they have been busy buying up cigalike brands but it is now clear their action is not going to end there.
In an effort to protect their brand names they are going for small vaping businesses...whether there is a clear trademark infringement or not.
First hit in the UK was Elite Vaping in Willenhall. That Adam and Lisa Parker had owned a hairdresser shop called Elite Hair Studio since 2004 meant little to Japan Tobacco. The company owning the E-Lite brand used the financial clout earned from selling B&H, Winston and Camels to threaten legal action over the name.
Bromsgrove-based E-Lites ignored the plethora of similarly named UK and USA stores but issued a cease and desist notice to Mr Parker, threatening to sue for infringement of trademark unless he dropped the name.
At the time, Adam commented: “They are involved with electric cigarettes while my shop handles vapourisers, vaping equipment and e-liquids. It is completely different.”
"Elite has been used as a business name by my family for ten years and there was no problem registering Elite Vaping with Companies House. It is neither spelt nor sounds like E-Lites."
He said: "It will cost a lot of money to change signage, stock and other items but I have no alternative." And change the name they did, managing to continue trading as Supreme Vaping (as long as Diana Ross’s solicitor doesn’t find out).
Many observers will feel Adam’s sense of injustice at being financially unable to match the might of Big-T funded lawyers who spend their days seeking out easy fights to win like playground bullies - none more so than Rob and a heavily-pregnant Emma Ellard of Stealthvape (who could do without the stress).
Following a series of emails and phone calls that Republic Technologies Group claim not to have received; Stealthvape had a letter flop through the front door demanding that they immediately stop using the name OCD to describe their OCD Connector and OCD Washer.
Familiar to experienced vapers and DIY mod making enthusiasts; Rob designed, had built and trademarked the products back in 2014. The OCD designation was chosen to symbolise the problems vapers have when they see a gap between their mod and atty, one that the products solved.
So why are Republic Technologies upset?
Rob is perplexed: “Republic Tech appears to think that vapers will be confused when looking at our steel washer or stainless connectors, believing they are made by a company specialising in tobacco rolling papers.”
“All of the comments I’ve received about this matter usually start ‘Who are OCB?’, but we simply do not have the resources to take on the might of a well-funded legal team representing a rich tobacco company.”
On top of the legal costs incurred in arguing this spurious claim, Stealthvape now face the cost of a rebranding exercise for the OCD products and the distinct possibility of lost sales as search engines fail to direct potential buyers to www.stealthvape.co.uk.
The message to other manufacturers and vendors is clear: tobacco firms intend on using all means at their disposal to shoehorn their way into the vaping community.
According to Gregory Conley on the Congress Blog: "When America’s two largest tobacco companies, Altria and Reynolds American, belatedly began selling e-cigarettes in 2014, they bet all their money on producing cigarette lookalikes. But according to a report by the Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog, vapour products that don’t resemble traditional cigarettes at all are winning the day."
And this is why such moves against the likes of Stealthvape are happening, the article continues: “In an effort to protect the e-cigarette market from competition, they are publicly lobbying the Food and Drug Administration to take steps that would shut down the entire $1.5 billion open vapour product. And if the federal government doesn’t see through these transparent tactics and Congress allows it, Big Tobacco just might win.”