There has been a lot of excitement in the area of trade in cigarettes in recent years. We've had the Clove Cigarettes case. The Australian Plain Packaging case is starting up, and might spread if others adopt plain packaging. Trade concerns have been raised about Canadian rules on flavored cigarettes. And various issues have been raised in relation to a proposed EU tobacco regulation measure. (That was just off the top of my head -- have I missed anything?)
But an even bigger battle may be ahead of us. Have you heard of electronic cigarettes? Until recently, I hadn't. The Economist explains:
Electronic cigarettes ... work by turning nicotine-infused liquid into vapour, which is then inhaled. A user is therefore said to be “vaping”, not smoking.
Here's more from Wikipedia: "An electronic cigarette, also known as an e-cigarette, personal vaporizer or PV, is an electronic inhaler that vaporizes a liquid solution into an aerosol mist, simulating the act of tobacco smoking."
If you are like me, and find cigarette smoke very irritating, here's one really good part: "Unlike cigarettes, they do not damage the health of bystanders. They do not even smell that bad, so there is no public nuisance, let alone hazard, ... ."
Oh, and there's this: e-cigarettes "separate the dangerous part of smoking (the tar, carbon monoxide and smoke released by the process of combustion) from the nicotine." So replacing regular cigarettes with e-cigarettes might be good for public health!
Now for the trade problems: "Several countries (including Austria and New Zealand) restrict the sale of e-cigarettes, for example by classifying them as medical devices; others (Brazil and Singapore) ban them altogether."
Here's what I envision as the worst-case scenario for trade. For a long time, tobacco production has been tied to places that are suited for production in terms of climate. Now, though, anyone and everyone can get into the smoking (vaping?) industry. It's just a high-tech product like any other. Build a factory, make e-cigarettes. As the production patterns shift, there will be new competition, and this new competition could lead to trade friction between the traditional and e-cigarette producing countries.
One particular issue will be a lot of fun: Likeness. Are e-cigarettes "like" traditional cigarettes? To what extent do they compete in the marketplace? As with all things tobacco, I really have no idea, but my sense is that smokers and public health advocates will have strong views!