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    Vape and Next Gen: The best of times, the worst of times

    Photo: iStock

    As the vape sector enjoys rocket-fuelled growth cross the country, the government is taking aim with deadly new legislation in prospect

    It has been a tumultuous year for the vaping and next gen sector. The industry is growing fast, and new products are multiplying, in an attempt to corner market share and keep up with the seemingly inexhaustible demand.

    Unfortunately, this has meant that there persists a kind of Wild West situation, with many illegal products and illicit imports alongside the law-abiding vape suppliers.

    Indeed, the worst thing is that legal producers and brands – all of whom are making strenuous efforts to keep up with a changing situation and legislation – are sometimes tarred with the same brush that should be reserved for the cowboys.

    Likewise, convenience retailers are often in the news for selling illegal or illicit goods, sometimes guilty as charged, but more frequently the victims of obscure and untested rules (there are emerging grey areas regarding what exactly is legal, for example with reference to puff counts when multiple different-flavour tanks are sold in one product), or guilt by association.

    The fact is that the vast majority of indie retailers are honest and law abiding – as business-owners they have no interest in risking their livelihoods for a bit of extra quick profit. Another fact is that most illicit vapes are bought in varied places that have nothing to do with c-stores. Car boots and motorway service stations, hairdressers and health clubs, restaurants and pool halls, pubs and sneaker stores – all these are where illegal purchases are commonly being made.

    Vape and Next Gen: The best of times, the worst of times
    (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

    But have you noticed how councils never have enough asphalt to fill in pot-holes, but always enough to put in more speed bumps? It is the same principle – retailers are the vulnerable, easy to prosecute low-hanging fruit, and so they suffer while the unregulated smugglers go about their illicit business largely unmolested.

    And of course, the government must act!

    The sector still does not comprehend that opposition to vaping by the anti-smoking lobby will remain vicious despite any claims (such as those by Public Health England) that the risks of vaping are 90 per cent or more lower than tobacco.

    The underlying reason for the fanatical opposition to vaping is that it impedes the banning of nicotine. Instead, vaping extends the use of nicotine, perhaps permanently, long after tobacco is a mere cultural memory and the last smoker has stubbed out his final cigarette.

    If vaping is halted, smokers will return to cigarettes, and then the efforts to ban smoking can resume at that simple and fundamental level, ensuring that nicotine goes the way of the dinosaurs – and this shows precisely how opposition to vaping is not really about health – because opponents would apparently prefer it if vapers still smoked instead.

    Then, when nicotine is gone, they can move on to banning meat, alcohol, foreign holidays, or whatever everyday enjoyments still remain.

    Asian Trader attended a meeting before Christmas, just after the Department of Health and Social Care’s much-trumpeted vape consultation period had ended – a consultation which was presented as a means to canvas opinion ahead of possible legislation around tighter restrictions on vape products, and especially on disposables.

    The meeting, which had some very interesting people in attendance, was held under the Chatham House Rule (named after the national security think-tank), which states that you are allowed to report what was said in the meeting, but not to name who said it, or even report who was present.

    In the meeting we learned that the government’s upcoming legislation had been written before the consultation period had even finished, which means that nothing submitted would have the slightest influence on what the government (or lobbyists) had already agreed was to happen – which is chiefly the banning of disposables. 

    Asian Trader expended a lot of time and energy on preparing a document for the consultation, which raised many concerns and addressed problems facing convenience retailers were constricting rules to be applied to the developing vape market. When we came to submit, we found an online tick-box question form. That, and the “Chatham House Rule” meeting, confirmed suspicions that the consultation was mere window-dressing.

    The e-cig phenomenon

    Meanwhile, the vape sector continues in (almost literally) rude health. According to Tom Gully, Head of Consumer Marketing UK & Ireland at Imperial Tobacco, quoting the ECigIntelligence Market Database Estimates, the vape market is continually expanding with the number of vapers in the UK increasing over 16 per cent YOU, from 3.7m in 2021 to 4.3m in 2022 (while tobacco declines annually by roughly three per cent), making the category is now worth around £1.2bn now and £1.4bn in the next three years. 

    “With around 35 per cent of current vape volume sales already taking place in the traditional retail channel, it’s clear that there will be continued demand from consumers for vaping products throughout 2024,” says Gully. “To tap into this rising trend, retailers need to ensure they are dedicating sufficient space in store for vaping products and stocking the right range for their customer base.”

    The surging trend right now is of course disposable e-cigs (already 83 per cent of vape sales), perhaps a sign that more traditional smokers are moving into the vape space.

    “The disposables market saw a remarkable increase from £141m in 2021 to £973m in 2022,” Gully reveals, and in order to cater for this growing demand, last year Imperial announced their blu bar disposable vape range. 

    Vape and Next Gen: The best of times, the worst of times

    To help retailers take advantage of the sales opportunities in the growing disposables category, we have launched three new flavours to our popular blu bar range, quickly adding more flavours and options. 

    Available to buy now at the same RRP of £5.99, Gully explains that the new additions joining the blu bar line up include 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 per cent of all vaping sales over the last six months,” he says, “with their share contribution almost doubling vs. the same period a year ago. This really demonstrates the significant consumer demand for these particular flavour profiles.”

    Each blu bar device provides up to 600 puffs, and is therefore fully compliant with regulations.

    “The range has been extensively tested and comes from a recognisable brand that retailers and their shoppers can trust, making it a must-stock range to cater for the rising demand for disposables,” Gully reassures.

    The number of puffs per device – the number basically limited by the 2ml maximum e-liquid level allowed per tank, is of course being tested and extended by innovators brining fresh products to market 0- either squeezing more puffs from the same 2ml (claims of 800 puffs are emerging), or using legally compliant designs to radically extend the puff-factor.

    One of these, made by Preston-based manufacturer of e-liquids, IVG, aims to keep within the regs while allowing a radically greater number of puffs – by using multiple flavours and separate e-liquid tanks.

    Its IVG2400 4 in 1 is a first-to-market disposable vape bar in the UK and EU, whose benefits are aimed at “targeting pressing social and economic issues, discussed through regular media coverage highlighting under-age vaping, illegal vapes and the environmental negativity of disposables,” said Rhett Morrissey, Marketing Manager at IVG. 

    The IVG2400 4 in 1 is different from other single 600 puff disposables in that it holds 4 x 600 puff pods, giving the availability of a total of 2400 puffs. The consumer can easily move to the next pod without having to carry spare disposables. 

    “This is extremely convenient for the consumer and creates much less waste,” Morrisey says. “Another benefit for those that enjoy variety, are the 4 in 1 multi-flavoured pod options, where the consumer can switch between flavours as and when they want, while only carrying one device.

    “Significant investment, ground-breaking R & D and close liaison with the MHRA and Trading Standards, has meant that this unique patented product is fully TPD compliant.”

    Morrissey adds that that this gives retailers a weapon against illegal vapes, and its price-positioning and design targets adults, making it less attractive to minors. It does not look like (or cost like) a cheap throwaway. It’s innovative characteristics also mean that less plastic and battery waste will be created compared to standard legal disposables.”

    “This is cutting-edge design” continues Morrissey. “We’ve really thought about current issues, and worked hard to come up with responsible solutions. The consumer will be using only one battery in four; the plastic used overall, is much reduced; the technology and flavours within the device offer a supreme vaping experience making it easier for adult smokers to transition to vaping. In particular, the retailer can relax, safe in the knowledge that what they are selling is of the highest quality and above all, legal.”

    IVG reports that consumer feedback, since the launch, has been outstanding. Customers have remarked on the excellent vaping experience and been delighted by the quality of the flavours.

    Vape and Next Gen: The best of times, the worst of times

    Other popular innovations in the product scene include Gold Bar, which was the fastest-growing brand in the Vape Industry in 2023. Gold Bar says it has placed a key emphasis on working with independent FMCG vendors to maximize sell-through and success and is poised for an even bigger 2024. The Gold Bar disposable comes in 22 fruit and menthol blends, with a built-in 500mAh battery and is prefilled with 2mls of delicious e-liquid (up to 600 puffs per device) and comes with a 20mg salt nicotine (two per cent).

    The vape technology and manufacturing company Smoore International meanwhile has launched Feelm 2.0, a disposable vape that offers more than 1,000 puffs in 2ml.

    It claims the new device could save some £900 for consumers who have been affected by rising household costs, the firm said.

    The development of the product follows extensive consumer research by the company which revealed that disposable vape users expect more puff counts and less flavour deterioration over time from the brands they buy.

    Smoore argues that the 600-puff limit has led to the entry of significant volumes of illicit vapes into the UK from overseas, comprising higher e-liquid levels and offering higher puff counts which are non-compliant with UK regulations. It has also resulted in malpractice in the industry with producers overfilling vapes, despite stating 2ml on the packaging, leading to supermarkets destocking such products.

    Vape and Next Gen: The best of times, the worst of times

    Smoore said the new Feelm 2.0 addresses such issues in the disposable category, whilst meeting consumers demand for a product that lasts far longer than any compliant vapes currently does.

    “Feelm 2.0 is to disposable vapes what electric cars are to diesel ones – you get a lot more from the ‘tank’ for your money at a time when inflation year on year has been 6.7 per cent. It also means that consumers are not tempted to buy higher, non-compliant puff count products, thereby helping to cut down on the illicit trade which is currently rife in the UK,” said Rex Zhang, strategy director at Smoore, commented.

    Vape manufacturer Supreme, on the other hand, has addressed the illicit issue and growth of underage vaping (as well as reduce the environmental impact of disposable vapes) by discontinuing bright coloured e-cigs and renaming flavours.

    The company said it will immediately assess packaging across its entire 88vape range, from disposables to 10ml liquids, to ensure the use of colour is very limited and the packaging is plain and uniform – pre-empting possible new legislation.

    The Company’s 88vape disposable range will be switched to either plain black, white or grey hardware with any bright colours discontinued at the earliest opportunity. Likewise, flavours such as ‘Peach Dream’ will become ‘Peach’ and ‘Sweet Strawberry’ will become ‘Strawberry’ to reduce the shelf appeal for underage vapers.

    “As a business, we are fully committed to eradicating underage vaping so that the industry can get back to its core objective: to support adult smokers to find an affordable, sustainable, safer alternative to smoking,” Sandy Chadha, chief executive of Supreme, commented.

    Heated, pods and pouches

    The heated tobacco category does not suffer the underage associations that disposables do. Instead, it is unfairly the target of tobacco ban enthusiasts, with the generational tobacco ban drafted to apply to heated tobacco even though it is not a form of “smoking”: without ignition and the release of toxic chemicals, the Public Health England “90-per-cent-less-harm-from- vapes” figure also roughly applies to heated tobacco products.

    Victoria Lopez Aguas, Reduced-Risk Products Director at JTI UK says that the market continues to grow, especially picking up adult smokers for whom the taste and feel is familiar, and that the heated tobacco category was worth £105 million (in the past year in Traditional Retail)8, presenting a huge opportunity for retailers.   

    “In light of this, in September 2023 we launched Ploom X Advanced,” says Lopez Aguas, “an updated version of the Ploom X device. The device includes two key improved features, an optimised HeatFlow system, with higher vapour volume during initial puffs offering an enhanced user experience, and faster charging, it now takes less than 90 minutes to achieve a full charge.”

    Vape and Next Gen: The best of times, the worst of times

    Ploom X Advanced is available in a strong-value pre-packed bundle that includes the Ploom X Advanced device, charger, USB cable, cleaning sticks – plus two packs of EVO Tobacco Sticks (Bronze & Green flavours). This bundle is available in accredited independent and convenience retailers.  

    “Existing adult smokers could also save up to £3,600 a year with Ploom. This is based on comparing the average cost of 20 cigarettes (RRP £14.54) with 20 EVO Tobacco Sticks (RRP £4.50) per day.”  

    “Globally, the heat-not-burn category is on an upward trajectory and PMI’s IQOS products have already helped millions worldwide to switch away from cigarettes,” said Christian Woolfenden, PML managing director for UK and Ireland. “Heated tobacco is also seeing huge momentum in the UK, growing a staggering +400 per cent in the last three years. PML likewise released its latest version of IQOS last September, along with the new Terea heat sticks

    Heat-not burn tobacco devices are clearly the “grown-up” option, attractive to existing smokers, at whom the category appears to be aimed.

    Vape and Next Gen: The best of times, the worst of times

    PML’s IQOS ILUMA series sees a line-up of three innovative devices – IQOS ILUMA PRIME, IQOS ILUMA and IQOS ILUMA ONE. All three are built with the same technology at their core but have been designed to address varied preferences and different price points. IQOS ILUMA ONE – the hero product for the UK – is the most affordable option in the series priced at £39 (RRP), whereas IQOS ILUMA PRIME is the most enhanced device at £109 (RRP).

    Likewise, recent data has shown that although burgeoning in popularity, disposables have not swept all before them, and that both closed pod systems and basic open systems remain popular choices for vapers, accounting for 17 per cent 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,” says Imperial’s Gully. “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. 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.”

    In a fast-evolving sector (it was just a few years ago when the “pod-mod revolution” seemed the certain future of vape), nicotine pouches are another category forging ahead – see the feature in this issue’s Vape and Next Gen magazine section.

    The nicotine pouch category in the UK is now worth £4.8 million a month or nearly £60 million annually, and 75.1 per cent of Nicotine Pouch sales in traditional retail in the UK are from the Extra Strong or Strong strengths [Circana Market Place, Volume Share, Nicotine Pouch Category, Total UK, Q1 23.]

    Bruce Terry, Portfolio Brand Manager at JTI, explains the popularity through the company’ Nordic Spirit Nicotine Pouches brand.

    “We have noticed an increasing demand for higher strength nicotine pouches, with existing adult smokers in the UK market favouring extra strong strengths, which hold a 40.7 per cent share in comparison to 16.6 per cent for regular strength.”

    Vape and Next Gen: The best of times, the worst of times

    He notes that mint-flavours have also soared to new heights within the category, with the market currently split 80.1 per cent mint and 19.4 per cent fruit.

    “To help retailers tap into this, Nordic Spirit has expanded its portfolio with a new Spearmint strong nicotine strength. Not only does this answer to the growing demand for menthol products in the category, it also caters to demand for higher-strengths. This follows the launch of Spearmint and Bergamot Wildberry Extra-Strong last year too.” 

    Again, as with heat not burn, this suggests that seasoned smokers are especially attracted to the products.

    “There is a big opportunity for retailers to build on the success in the market and grow with Nordic Spirit,” he concludes.

    Scandinavian Tobacco Group entered the nicotine pouch category in the UK last October, introducing its first ever non-tobacco product, Ström, joining other brands such as BAT’s Velo and Zyn, from Swedish Match, among others.

    Pouches offer great margins and repeat purchases and take up a tiny amount of space, so if you are not stocking them yet, why wait?

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