How do consumers see e-cigs?

The growth of e-cigarettes has been astronomical, with sales up 340% and new research from Mintel examines whether ‘vapers’ see them as alternatives to smoking or cessations aids.

by Kevin Scott

Every now and again some new product arrives claiming to be the ‘next big thing’ and retailers are left in something of a quandary as to whether to invest in the product. Energy shots were heralded as a game changer yet failed to capture the public’s imagination and have now all but disappeared. However it’s highly unlikely that e-cigarettes will go the same way. E-cigarettes first began to appear in 2009, but it’s in the last two years that they have gained real traction.

For retailers, they offer good margins at a high price point, and with consumer demand flying, new brands launching (including two owned (through subsidiaries) by Imperial Tobacco and BAT). Thanks to a new report by Mintel, we can now see just how fast e-cigs are growing. In the last year, the value of the sector increased by 340% to £193m, up from £44m in 2012. The industry – which is set to change when impending reclassification is foisted upon it in whatever form that ends up taking – has been quick to take advantage of the fact brands are free to advertise, something tobacco brands have not been able to do for years. Some e-cig manufacturers have also cleverly marketed the product as a smoking cessation aid as well as alternative to smoking.

And the sector has made its presence felt on the traditional cessation market which saw annual increases of around 6-10% between 2009 and 2012, drop to 1.7% in 2013. According to Mintel’s research 32% of smokers and ex-smokers said that e-cigarettes were a good way to cut down. A further 26% said they were a useful to help quitting, which would suggest more consumers are turning to e-cigs as an alternative to smoking rather than a smoking cessation aid. 31% of those questioned agreed that there was a lack of information on the long term effects of using e-cigs, however only 20% agreed that they will only be considered safe once they have NHS approval. Despite this, one in 10 people who currently or used to smoke agree that e-cigarettes may encourage people to start smoking who otherwise may not have, rising to 19% of those aged 16-24. Roshida Khanom, Senior Personal Care Analyst at Mintel, says: “These findings suggest that young people may take up E-cigarettes instead of tobacco, and supports the government decision to make it illegal to sell these products to under-18s.”

With changes to legislation in 2016 likely to see e-cigs reclassified as medicines Khanom says that brands will need to provide more information to support their claims if they wish to remain in the market. “A brand that can become the spearhead for this can distinguish itself in the market and win consumer confidence, as well as becoming the leading brand to be prescribed by the NHS, or recommended by the NHS,” he says.

Mintel’s exclusive research questioning smokers who are trying to quit or who have quit smoking, finds the most popular smoking cessation method is non-prescription nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), used by half (50%) of people who have or are trying to quit smoking, and rated effective by 35%. Although not an official smoking cessation product, today, e-cigarettes are the second most popular method used by 45% of people and rated equally as effective as non-prescription NRT (35%). Additionally, e-cigarettes are rated as being as effective as non-prescription nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) in helping smokers kick the habit. So, it would seem there are multiple uses for e-cigarettes. The future of the industry remains unclear but over the next couple of years, politicians in the UK and Europe will wrestle to define the product. Whatever the final outcome, it would seem that e-cigs are here to stay.

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