Well, I’ve heard of getting ahead of the story via crisis 101, but tobacco companies are running past the story of e-cigarettes today. The companies are placing more stringent health warnings on packing than is required by law. Goodness of their heart? Not really, it’s more of a ‘see, we are looking out for the public good’ PR move.

It is a smart move, and has public health advocates spinning in their seats this morning. Smaller e-cigarette makers have been resistant to place health warnings, even sometimes claiming modest health benefits. Not big tobacco.

Long considered public health enemy number one, major tobacco companies are placing severe warning on their e-cigarette products. I guess we should be skeptical of the motives, but they are the ones placing the warnings voluntarily.

Examples of warnings come from a who’s who of the tobacco industry. Reynolds American says their product is not safe for people “who have an unstable heart condition, high blood pressure, or diabetes; or persons who are at risk for heart disease or are taking medicine for depression or asthma.”

Atria, the e-cigarette from the maker of Marlboro’s, takes a stab at nicotine with a warning label reading; “Nicotine is addictive and habit forming, and is very toxic by inhalation, in contact with the skin, or if swallowed.”

MakerTen, an Altria product, has a warning label running more than 100 words. In part, it reads people with heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes should not use the product. It goes further citing the effects of nicotine on a person and warning children away from the product.

Yeah, we could have used this 50 years ago, but the multi-million dollar question is why? The easiest is that is insulates them from any lawsuits down the road. The warnings are there. You bought it, you own the health consequences.

Plus, a cottage industry of conventions and a subculture has developed around the devices. People are using e-cigarettes more, and are likely to disregard the warnings. The tobacco industry also gets to look good in front of regulators, something the industry has not enjoyed in decades.

The tobacco companies for their part say their motives are straightforward. They want the public to know the health effects. And it doesn’t hurt if they manage to get a little positive press. When was the last time anyone said something good about a big tobacco. Without getting paid a lot to do it.

We will have to wait and see if regulators force any other action on the makers of e-cigarettes. This may buy the industry time measured in years by staking out the health warnings far ahead of what is required.

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