A rollercoaster year for the vaping industry
Over 220 smokers die every day from cigarettes and vaping is their best chance of quitting, according to John Dunne, Director General of the UK Vaping Industry Association, in this special report for Neighbourhood Retailer.
The vaping industry has had something of a rollercoaster year in 2023. Vaping remains the best tool available, by some way, to help smokers quit, but the issue of youth vaping remains a critical concern.
So much so, that the government is looking at possible restrictions on flavours and disposable vapes, which would surely damage vaping’s ability to play its current public health role.
The reputation of vaping has undoubtedly been damaged by misinformation and media scare stories. The facts are that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking and nicotine does not cause cancer and has been used in Nicotine Replacement Therapy for years and is regarded by the NHS as a safe treatment. However, largely due to misinformation, 40% of smokers believe vaping is as bad for them as smoking and are disincentivised from making a choice that could save their lives.
Against this backdrop in 2023, we’ve also seen a rise in the number of children experimenting with vapes, albeit those regularly using vapes did not rise significantly (ASH, June 2023).
The government’s reaction has been to consult on its twin goals of creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping.
Among the measures now under consideration are new laws which, if passed, could restrict vape flavours, ban single-use devices, impose new vape taxes and restrict how vaping products are packaged and presented in store.
The ‘nuclear option’ of banning single use devices and flavours, while insisting that the products left on sale must be hidden away like deadly cigarettes, would in our view be in nobody’s interest – certainly not smokers or vapers who have successfully quit. What the government does next is critical for the future of our industry and for the public health of the UK.
In Australia, where vaping is only available on difficult-to-acquire prescriptions, restrictions have failed to curb adult vaping and instead fuelled a thriving black market and it is now estimated that 90% of Australia’s vapers acquire their products through illegal means and as many as 100 million illicit products are imported into the country every year. The Australian model was referenced by Wes Streeting in October as a possible Labour Party policy.
The UKVIA sincerely hopes that the UK Government will not go down this route but – as we pointed out in our response to the consultation – we strongly support new regulations which will tackle youth uptake while preserving the access of vapes to adults.
Not unsurprisingly, the issues surrounding youth vaping, environmental concerns and upcoming regulatory change were all hot topics at this year’s UKVIA Forum, the UK’s leading vaping industry conference. We had representatives from both Houses of Parliament speaking passionately about the huge potential from vaping for the health of the nation.
The answer to combat youth vaping is actually quite simple. We already have a law that says if you’re under 18 you can’t buy a vape; we now need to enforce it properly. For a start, we need to heavily penalise retailers who flout the law (we’re calling for £10,000 on the spot fines) and also set up a licensing scheme for retailers. Such a scheme would require retailers to meet certain conditions before they could sell vapes and for those who break the law, the ultimate sanction would be to lose their license and their ability to sell vapes to anyone.
‘BE VAPE VIGILANT’
In November, the UKVIA launched our ‘Be Vape Vigilant’ campaign, a nationwide initiative to identify and report rogue traders suspected of selling vapes to minors or stocking illicit goods. A surprisingly high level of incoming reports has shown that there is real demand to target those who fail to comply with the law.
The Be Vape Vigilant initiative is supported by Trading Standards, the Association of Convenience Stores and the wider retail sector, to mobilise legitimate retailers and the general public to highlight exactly where retail and wholesale outlets are selling vapes to anyone under 18 or supplying potentially highly dangerous illicit vapes.
Environmental concerns were understandably high on the agenda for the vaping industry in 2023. Far too many vapes are ending up in landfill and the vaping industry, regulators, waste companies and consumers need to work together to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to recycle them, but also consumer behaviour changes. Progress is being made, but this will no doubt continue to be a major focus for the industry in 2024.
2023 has seen a strong focus on production processes and quality control of manufacturers large and small, following news at the beginning of the year that some vapes had entered the UK market with more than the maximum legal e-liquid capacity. This was ultimately a net positive for consumers who can now have greater confidence that the regulated industry is working harder than ever to ensure it remains on the right side of the law.
‘Progress is being made, but this will no doubt continue to be a major focus for the industry in 2024’
It has also put the spotlight firmly on innovation, one of the areas where the vape really excels. It’s only because of many decades of painstaking and costly R&D that we have such a game-changing alternative to cigarettes that smokers actually enjoy using and are effective in helping them quit.
Vaping has had a turbulent year, but it’s likely that 2024 will be another year of change. The industry is desperate for government to enable Trading Standards to enforce the law and stop vapes getting in the hands of children; if they ban flavours or disposables, it will not only encourage an unregulated black market, but those who live in deprived areas with disproportionally high levels of smoking will be further discouraged from quitting.
The vape industry is not only a vital tool to improve the health of the nation, it also creates employment, supports local economies and provides vital income for the exchequer. With a general election looming and policy reform on the horizon, it’s certainly going to be another interesting year ahead.
TO VIEW THE FULL FEATURE FROM JOHN DUNNE IN THE 2024 NEIGHBOURHOOD RETAILER YEARBOOK AND MARKETING GUIDE, CLICK HERE