The vaping category is still crucial for independent retail despite anxieties over potential legislative changes.
By Elena Dimama
An array of flavours, varieties and brands makes the vaping category a crucial one for independent retailers, despite regulatory roadblocks.
Smoking alternatives make up 12.4% of the total nicotine category, with e-cigarettes, heated tobacco and oral nicotine the only nicotine categories to show growth in the past year.
In Scotland, the nicotine category is dominated by Factory Made Cigarettes, however, according to the ONS, smoking alternatives now account for 12% of the nicotine category – up from 2% just five years ago – highlighting the importance for the sector.
Disposable friends and foes
The disposable market is quite a lucrative one within the category, now worth 83% of all vape sales, according to ITUK.
“Retailers should ensure they review their range regularly and prioritise stocking the brands that cater to these fast-moving trends in order to remain current and maximise sales,” Tom Gully, Head of Consumer Marketing UK & Ireland at Imperial Tobacco, explains. “With this in mind, we’d recommend stocking a range of leading disposable products like blu bar, and pod-mods such as blu 2.0, to take advantage of the growing demand.”
The brand has launched three new flavours to capitalise on the demand for disposable vapes, including Tropical Mix, Apple Ice and Mint Ice, taking the total flavour range up to 13 variants.
“Collectively, these flavour characteristics, including apple, pineapple, mint and mango, accounted for 10.75% of all vaping sales over the last six months, with their share contribution almost doubling vs. the same period a year ago,” Gully notes. “This really demonstrates the significant consumer demand for these particular flavour profiles.”
Meanwhile, however, the future of disposable vapes and flavours has come into question, after the UK’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak launched a consultation on plans to create what is described as a ‘smokefree generation’ and crack down on youth vaping. Moreover, the Scottish government announced back in September it was considering a ban on disposable vaping products, as part of a wider public health and environment protection plan.
Responding to the government’s proposals, the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) is calling for tougher regulation on naming and packaging to deter underage vaping, but cautions against flavour restrictions. Amongst the measures the body proposes are Challenge 25 checks; asking producers to encourage alternative vaping products over disposables, but ruling out an outright ban to avoid the rise of illicit trade; working with retailers to provide recycling options; and making sure current legislation is enforced to punish retailers responsible for illegal sales of vapes.
Announcing the proposals, SGF CEO Pete Cheema said: “The Healthier Choices, Healthier Communities campaign is about balance. We want to help create public policy which simultaneously encourages vaping amongst adults who wish to quit smoking and discourages it amongst non-smokers, particularly given the evidence of young people vaping.”
Juul Labs UK Director of National Accounts Richard Cook tells SLR: “The priority must be to ensure the vaping industry is acting responsibly in order to help adult smokers transition away from cigarettes and reduce the harms from tobacco while combating underage use.
“We want to build a responsible vaping industry with tougher rules on packaging, flavours and promotions, to prevent these products getting into the hands of those who are underage.”
He adds: “Disposables have been under political scrutiny, and media interest intensifies, but views vary widely on the depth and scale of regulatory intervention required across the category.
“Quality products, focusing on sustainability/environmental impact, with responsible marketing and advertising practices, will be best placed in any future regulatory configuration.”
The issue of sustainability within the category is a pertinent one, which is why the SGF is placing increased emphasis on it, in collaboration with SLR.
The body is currently running a pilot programme to introduce vape recycling bins into stores across Scotland. The first phase saw a total of 20 SGF member stores from across Scotland participate in the scheme. Cheema noted at the time of the scheme’s announcement: “A key focus for both SGF and SLR is the promotion of responsible community retailing.
“We recognise that single-use vapes can be extremely effective for those quitting smoking, but they must stop appearing in our streets and parks. Stores participating in the pilot will be able to offer customers a return point in-store through a recycling bin for used vapes and retailers will be provided with a convenient waste and recycling option as part of this.”
The campaign comes as research reveals the extent of the problem around disposables.
Cook explains: “Last month, Material Focus found that the number of disposable vapes thrown away has quadrupled from 1.3 million to five million per week in the past year, equivalent to eight per second.
“Juul devices are not single-use devices and can be reused and recharged, unlike disposable vapes, and are designed to be long lasting, with each device coming with a two-year warranty. If needed, the battery part of the device can be recycled with other electronic waste.
“We are committed to improving the sustainability of our products and, over the last 18 months, have been operating a take-back scheme where users can return their used Juul pods to us at no additional cost.”
No to the ban
Meanwhile, the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) has called on smokers, vapers and the wider industry to rally behind a national petition which urges the government against banning disposable vapes and flavours.
The petition shines a light on the potential public health consequences of ‘excessive and counterproductive legislation’ which reduces the effectiveness of vaping as a stop smoking tool.
It warns that blocking access to flavours and disposables, on which over half of smokers looking to quit rely, could prevent adult smokers from making the switch.
To encourage consumers to pledge their support, the UKVIA is directly engaging with its own members, advocacy groups such as WeVape and online communities which have a combined membership of more than 100,000 adult vapers.
The trade association is also running a social media campaign to maximise sign ups and is sharing stories of real ex-smokers whose lives have been changed for the better after switching to vaping.