British American Tobacco launches energy drink in Australia

An energy drink called Ryde from British American Tobacco (BAT) has seen its first promotions in Australia. It aims to introduce BAT in the wellness segment and should soon include formulations including cannabidiol (CBD). However, the identity of the tobacco company that owns the brand and its manufacturer is not revealed.

It was on the University of Sydney campus that the first advertising bottles of Ryde, a new energy drink, were distributed (1). Currently available in three flavors according to their supposed effects on tone (“energy”, “focus”, “relax”), this drink highlights its “refreshing” action and its “healthy” aroma.

However, this promotion hides one of the tobacco multinational British American Tobacco (BAT), which confirms its entry into the market with products labeled “well-being”. The tobacco company is the sole owner of the maker of these drinks, The Water Street Collective, but it appears on the Ryde website only under its initials.

A promotion that goes beyond its scope

A University of Sydney spokeswoman said she had not been informed of the promotional operation, or that videos shot on campus would appear on TikTok. Approval for this promotion appears to have been given by the university department, but it would be limited to the distribution of free samples. This union disputed knowledge of the identity of the owner of these marks and requested that all references to the university be removed. Videos posted on TikTok quickly disappeared.

This concealment of ownership is primarily intended to prevent the crowding out effect associated with tobacco companies and tobacco products. However, in Australia, subsidiaries are not required to disclose the names of their owners. So the maneuver is legal, even though it may appear hidden.

Tobacco Industry Diversification Strategy

BAT’s foray into the world of energy drinks can be explained in several ways. For Laura Schmidt, a professor of public health at the University of California, this diversification strategy is not particularly new. The tobacco industry invested heavily in sugar-sweetened beverages as early as the 1960s before exiting the industry in the early 2000s(2). The tobacco industry’s know-how in flavours, marketing and targeting young people was then transferred to the sugary drinks sector. It is now used in the wellness and energy drink segment.

According to Cristina Watts, a researcher at the Daffodil Center (University of Sydney/Cancer Council NSW), the strategy is primarily aimed at expanding the supply of resources, rather than replacing the tobacco trade. In countries such as Australia and Canada, where legislation regarding tobacco and vaping products is very restrictive, the wellness segment appears to be poorly regulated and allows more freedom in terms of marketing.

Well-being, a poorly defined sector with high added value

Some major tobacco companies – BAT, as well as Philip Morris International (PMI), Altria and Japan Tobacco International (JTI) – have invested in health and wellness markets in recent years, which Laura Schmidt describes as “healthy washing” (whitening with medical products). Through its subsidiary Btomorrow Ventures, BAT has already launched various cannabidiol (CBD) products in other countries and has also invested in “recreational” cannabis. Its subsidiary, The Water Street Collective, in turn, has registered trademarks for food and dietary supplements with CBD and psychoactive hemp.

Becky Freeman, a professor of public health at the University of Sydney, says wellness is perfect for the tobacco industry. It makes it possible to sell at high prices products whose alleged effects and benefits are unreasonably promoted. But he believes consumers have a right to know what they’re buying, who they’re buying it from and how they’re being targeted.

Keywords: Australia, BAT, Ryde, energy drinks, CBD

©Tobacco Free Generation

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(1) Davey M, May N, Australian students given ‘wellbeing shots’ by British American Tobacco subsidiary – as experts fear new front in health warsThe Guardian, published 14 January 2024, accessed 15 January 2024.

(2) Nguyen KH, Glantz SA, Palmer CN, Schmidt LA. Involvement of the tobacco industry in the market for children’s sweetened beverages. BMJ. 2019 Mar 14;364:l736. doi: 10.1136/bmj.l736. PMID: 30872273; PMCID: PMC6890456.

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