The arrival of US vaping giant JUUL Labs has helped rouse the slumbering category in the local retailing sector – and UK Sales Director John Patterson believes convenience retailers will play a much bigger part in the category in the near future.
JUUL has enjoyed spectacular success in the States. Can you offer a brief history of the growth of JUUL over there?
JUUL was created in 2016 after 10 years of extensive research and development into smoking alternatives. In three short years, JUUL has captured over 75% of the US c-store vape market and is responsible for nearly 100% of the category growth over the past 18 months.
JUUL is now very much active in the UK local retailing sector. Can you give us an update?
We are less than a year old in the UK, having launched into the vape specialist channel in July last year, followed by Sainsburys in November 2018. We began our push into convenience in March 2019 through our dedicated field sales team.
Are you targeting Scotland?
Very much so. Our early launch partners include JW Filshill and CJ Lang, and we are in discussions with other major wholesale operators in Scotland.
How is the challenge to convert scotland’s smokers to vaping progressing?
There are just over 800,000 smokers in Scotland – 16% of the population – and 68% want to quit. Governments, charities and public health bodies are receptive to vaping as an alternative to smoking, so we are pushing against an open door in that respect.
What are the main challenges?
The main challenge for converting smokers is simply that there is a real lack of understanding among current adult smokers about the benefits of switching. For example, 22% of still believe that vaping is just as harmful as smoking while a further 22% are unsure and 50% believe that nicotine causes cancer. Vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking and while nicotine is addictive, it is not cancer-causing and relatively harmless.
And new evidence has emerged that suggests fears that vaping would appeal to non-smokers are unfounded?
Only 4% of vapers have never smoked and there is ‘negligible use of e-cigarettes among never-smokers’ according to ASH Scotland. We are committed to only targeting adult smokers and totally discourage non-nicotine users taking up vaping.
How important is your commitment to Challenge 25?
In one word – absolute. No retailer can stock JUUL without signing up to Challenge 25. Range, support, retail furniture and merchandising may differ according to customer but preventing youth access to products is the one constant that applies across all accounts. No Challenge 25 sign up, no JUUL – it’s as simple as that.
How will the UK vaping market develop?
C-stores will play a much greater role. If convenience retailers get behind the category, stock the right range of products and increase product visibility and training of store staff then we believe there is a huge opportunity to grow overall category sales. Product-wise we believe pod-based systems like JUUL will continue to grow share of sales as these offer greater convenience and simplicity.
What role do you see for Scotland’s local retailers?
Scotland has seen the greatest decline in smoking in the UK, down from over 23% of the population in 2011 to just over 16% now. Smoking and smokers are habitual, and smokers don’t want to change their repertoires. They value their local store – where they have always bought their cigarettes – and we need to ensure that we make switching convenient for adult smokers. Therefore, smoking alternatives have to be stocked in outlets where smokers buy tobacco – and that’s why local stores will play a pivotal role in shaping the future for Scotland’s smokers.