Breathing space for retailers as Tobacco & Vapes Bill dropped

Selling tobacco

The Tobacco & Vapes Bill was not included in legislation being rushed through by MPs ahead of parliament closing down for the General Election last month, presenting opportunities for retailers.

By Antony Begley

All the grandstanding and breathless headlines around Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Tobacco & Vapes Bill turned out to be in vain as, at the end of last month, the Bill never made it onto the list of legislation being rushed through by MPs ahead of parliament closing down for the General Election.

Granted, it was Sunak himself who called the short-notice General Election so he must have had at least some notion that the Bill he described as “evidence of the bold action that I’m prepared to take” might not actually make its way through parliament in time.

Had it passed, the legislation would have made it illegal to sell tobacco to anyone born after 1 January 2009 as well as having a profound impact on how vaping products were made, marketed and sold.

The UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) had long said that it was “broadly supportive of the aims of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill and the impact it is expected to have on reducing smoking and youth vaping rates”. The body had, however, been pushing for a number of key amendments to the Bill, including the introduction of a vape retailer and distributor licensing scheme, and frequently stated that it was “concerned that the absence of a statutory requirement for the Government to consult before making regulations poses a significant risk of arbitrary decision making”.

Remarkably, in the days before the Bill was dropped, Public Health Minister Andrea Leadsom stated flatly that she would not consider a licensing scheme which she saw as “a license for the vaping industry to get rid of the competition, make loads more money and focus even more on addicting children to vapes.”

There are many legitimate retailers who consider the lack of a licensing scheme, similar to the Tobacco Register, as a major loophole which explains why so many gift shops, hairdressers and assorted other retailers can be found selling vaping products with no formal staff training on selling age-restricted products, nor any formal and effective mechanism for checking whether they are actually complying with existing legislation.

Breathing space

The furore ground to an abrupt halt however at the end of last month, although Labour remains committed to the policy and is likely to revisit it should the party win the General Election.

For the time being, however, legitimate retailers have some breathing space in an important category – and there is plenty going on to help them drive sales and profits.

Imperial Brands Consumer Marketing Director UK & Ireland Yawer Rasool said: “As more consumers seek out alternative nicotine solutions, the vaping sector is expected to grow significantly. We estimate that the total category value will have grown from £930m in 2019 to be almost £3bn in 2025.”

The company says that around 35% of current vape volume sales already take place in the traditional retail channel. Rasool says “it’s clear that there will be continued demand from consumers for vaping products throughout 2024” and encourages local retailers in Scotland to keep tapping into this rising trend by “dedicating sufficient space in-store for vaping products and stocking the right range for their customer base”.

Imperial estimates from November 2023 suggest that around 88% of all vape sales are in the disposables category. “In order to cater for this growing demand, we recently announced the launch of our new and improved blu bar 1000 device,” says Rasool.

“Our data also shows, however, that both closed pod systems and open systems remain popular choices for vapers, accounting for 17% of the UK vaping market. To tap into this trend, we’d recommend that retailers stock a range of leading pod systems, including our blu 2.0 device.”

Rasool also advises retailers to review their range regularly and prioritise stocking the brands that cater to these fast-moving trends in order to remain current and maximise sales.

He says: “We’d recommend stocking a range of leading disposable products like blu bar 1000, and pod-mods such as blu 2.0, to take advantage of the growing demand. Our blu bar 1000 benefits from an array of product upgrades and new features, providing the perfect solution to help retailers grow their vape sales even further in 2024.

“Available with an RSP of £5.99, the fully compliant blu bar 1000 range offers up to 1,000 puffs per device and features blu Flavour Tech mesh coil technology to deliver strong bursts of flavour that really last. The redesigned casing on blu bar 1000 also means that the liquid level is visible through the translucent mouthpiece, making it much easier to see when the liquid is running low.

“With a new removable battery, users can now twist, pop and release it, making it easy to safely dispose of the used battery at a local battery collection point. While a new security lock feature allows users to lock their blu bar 1000 device when not in use.”

Merchandising advice

Imperial Brands offers the following advice:

  • Have a strong visual display of vaping products, positioned away from the main gantry where possible.
  • Include clear information on pricing to enable customers to browse at their leisure without the need to handle and inspect products.
  • Where space is limited, even a small countertop unit can help achieve this.
  • Retailers can currently display, advertise and promote vaping products in and around the store, so using eye-catching, compliant POS and countertop display units can really help drive visibility and grab the attention of adult nicotine users as soon as they walk through the door.
  • Make sure that you are fully compliant with the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991 by displaying a prominent notice in store stating that it is illegal to sell vape product to anyone under the age of 18.
  • Ensure vaping products are merchandised only to appeal to adults by ensuring counter display units and gantry furniture are kept at adult eye level, and away from any child or adolescence-related products.

Pouch power

With steady growth in the nicotine pouch category, cigar market leader Scandinavian Tobacco Group UK (STG UK) has made a bold move into the category, the first time it has ever stepped out of the cigar category.

“Sales of nicotine pouches are really gathering pace in the UK,” says STG UK Marketing Manager Prianka Jhingan. “In fact, in 2023, UK pouch sales accounted for a 10% share of global pouch revenue.

“It’s flavours that are driving that growth, with mint being the dominant one, and we have recently been delighted to announce our entry into the next-gen nicotine category with the launch of XQS pouches.

“This new range has been created in Sweden, the home of nicotine pouches, and has been available to retailers from May onwards, competitively priced at just £5.50.”

The XQS range was launched in a variety of strengths in four popular flavours: Tropical, Blueberry Mint, Cool Ice and Arctic Freeze.

“While the Tropical and Blueberry Mint variants give users a fruity burst of flavour, the Cool Ice and Arctic Freeze variants offer minty flavour and an icy, cooling sensation,” explains Jhingan. “All four variants come in fully recyclable packaging and contain uniquely smaller-sized pouches to ensure a perfect fit under the lip.”

Jhingan says she only expects the nicotine market to grow and encourages retailers to “give it the focus it deserves”.

“It’s also worth noting that around 40% of all nicotine pouch sales take place in convenience stores, further reinforcing the fact it’s a category to understand and get right,” she adds.

Fight back against illicit

Disposable vapes have continued to see impressive growth over the last year and this popularity has made them an area of focus for illicit traders.

“As a result, we’re seeing an increasing number of non-compliant vape products come to market,” says James Hall, Anti-Illicit Trade Manager, Imperial Brands.

“Non-compliant disposable vapes entering the market have been found to present particular compliance risks, in that they contain an excessive amount of nicotine, which may have potentially harmful effects on consumers. It is illegal for non-compliant products to be sold in the UK, or for compliant products to be sold to those aged under 18 years old.

“It’s crucial that any suspected illicit activity is flagged to the relevant authorities so that action can be taken. Therefore, we strongly encourage retailers to report any potential illicit trade activity in their area by contacting our salesforce through our dedicated SARA trade platform, emailing, or calling us directly through our anti-illicit trade hotline on 0800 0495992.”

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This publication contains images and information relating to tobacco products. Please do not view if you are under the age of 18 years old.

This website contains images and information relating to tobacco products. Please do not view if you are under 18 years of age.

This website contains images and information relating to tobacco products. Please do not view if you are under 18 years of age.

This publication contains images and information relating to tobacco products. Please do not view if you are under the age of 18 years old.