There were many bold statements made at our Cloud Chasing vaping event in Glasgow last month but possibly the boldest came from Richard Cook of US vaping sensation Juul. As the final speaker on a day of fine speakers, Cook closed the conference with the confident prediction that “vaping will replace tobacco” – and the clear implication was that this would happen sooner rather than later.
What was most interesting, however, was the reaction to that comment from the assembled room full of retailers. A sea of raised eyebrows more or less covers it. And that, for me, summed up why the convenience retailing channel has performed so badly in this category and why this conference was so timely.
Why do we have such a hard time believing that vaping is the future? There are lots of possible reasons but every scrap of evidence suggests vaping will replace tobacco and an increasing amount of evidence suggests it will happen quicker than many of us expect.
We had already heard from Philip Morris International at the event who highlighted once more that it is committed to a combustible cigarette-free future and that it had spent a gargantuan £4.5bn developing the IQOS technology that will help it achieve that aim. We had heard how tobacco sales continue to fall as every year passes. We had heard how the Scottish Government is hell-bent on a tobacco-free Scotland.
In fact, no matter where you look, it’s not looking great for the tobacco category. So the big question is not if vaping will replace tobacco, it’s when it will do so.
What’s not in doubt is the fact that the local retailing sector has a mountain to climb in order to give itself a half decent chance of cashing in on that inevitable shift to vaping. There are a lot of factors to consider here with some of them potentially working in our favour – and some not.
If, as the major tobacco-funded vaping companies and indeed Juul seem to believe, the future is in pod-based vaping systems, then we could be back in the game. Buying pods is fundamentally a non-complex shopping experience similar to buying cigarettes. Little or no knowledge or advice needed from retailers and no fancy bits of kit. Customers simply choose their vaping starter kit of choice then buy pods as they require them. Simples.
If the market doesn’t evolve that way however, then we may be in trouble. The biggest message that came out of the Cloud Chasing event was that education and training is what separates vapeshops from c-stores. Vapeshop staff know the category inside out, c-stores don’t.
Even if pods are the future, we will however still require at least basic training for all store staff and the time for that training is probably right about now.
Vaping is not here to take part, it’s here to take over.
Antony Begley, Publishing Director