SMOKING – Dragon roars at e-cigs

E-cigarettes are a major growth market for wholesalers and retailers. But the current e-cig boom could be stubbed out, if the rest of the UK follows Wales’ lead in banning people from vaping, aka using e-cigarettes, in enclosed places such as restaurants, pubs and at work, under a new public health law.

walesThe Welsh ban is likely to come into force in 2017. If it does, it will be the first in the UK. It remains to be seen what the rest of Britain will do. In Scotland for example, tobacco use is associated with over 13,000 deaths and around 56,000 hospital admissions every year. In 2013, the Scottish Government’s five-year tobacco control strategy, Creating a Tobacco-Free Generation, set a target to reduce smoking prevalence in Scotland to 5 per cent or less by 2034.

When the story broke Wales’ decision divided opinion among health and medical groups, including some anti-smoking campaigners. But ministers say the proposed ban is a “balance of risk” and will stop children smoking.

Not everyone favours the ban. Elen de Lacy, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking & Health for Wales, said: “Banning the use of electronic cigarettes in public places should be an evidence-based decision. We urge Welsh Assembly Members and Ministers looking at this proposal to call on experts and academics to present the latest research. E-cigarettes are relatively new, and more work is urgently needed to fully understand their longterm effects on health. It is important that we minimise any risks e-cigarettes may pose and maximize their benefits for adult smokers looking to quit.”

“Tackling smoking is the biggest public health concern we face in Wales, particularly among young people, and this should continue to be the top priority for politicians.”

George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco policy manager, took a similar stance: “There’s a wide body of health evidence to support a ban on smoking regular cigarettes in public places but there isn’t enough evidence to justify a ban on using e-cigarettes indoors. The measure could create more barriers for smokers trying to quit tobacco.

“Cancer Research UK supports light touch regulations of e-cigarette products and their marketing. E-cigarettes – although not risk free – are almost certainly far safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes which kill up to two thirds of long-term smokers.

“This is a fast-emerging market, but we’re optimistic about the potential benefits of e-cigarettes for helping smokers quit, whilst minimising the potential risks. Although there are still questions around the long-term health impacts of these products, Cancer Research UK supports evidence-based policy making.”

Wholesale Manager contacted the UK-based e-cig suppliers for comment, but few replied. One that did was Tamir Teitelbaum of Neo, which markets electronic cigarettes in the UK and 13 other countries over the globe:

“My company is not owned by big tobacco. I can assure any customer that our intention is not to create a gateway to tobacco use, our goal is to play a part in the growth of a market which offers the greatest improvement to general public health in this century.” He continued: “In my opinion, the proposed Welsh ban on e-cigarette public use is an exercise in politicking. The decision from the European Parliament following the implementation of the Tobacco Products Directive II (TPD II) is due in May 2016, and member states will follow that directive. As there is not yet regulation to follow, it can be seen as good PR to be making a ‘tough stance’ on anything, even if it is not in line with the scientific evidence, which wholeheartedly supports the promotion of e-cigarette use ahead of tobacco use.”

From the wholesale managers’ perspective, Tamir believes the lack of regulation in the marketplace has allowed “a very low cost to entry” for traders to take advantage of the e-cigarette boom: “It is important to ensure that the suppliers you work with are reputable, have a certain level of standards – always ask to see product certification, any reputable company is happy to share – and are planning to be in the electronic cigarette market for the long term. As we get closer to regulation, the ‘cowboys’ in the industry will move to another market and we will see the consolidation that the market needs in order to grow in a healthy manner.”

Tamir Teitelbaum quotes the latest data from ASH, which shows that 18% of current smokers – circa 10million – in the UK regularly use e-cigarettes – up from 3% in 2010, the market is growing at an astonishing rate and there is a positive future for the category. “There are milestones to come, and the TPD II implementation will regulate the products available and ensure a base level of quality for the market, which is good for everyone concerned. The challenge for a wholesale manager is to know which brands will continue to grow past this milestone and continue a successful, supportive relationship with the wholesalers, retailers and consumers into the next ten years.”

Look out for our Vaping Special in the July-August issue of Wholesale Manager. Do you have a view on e-cigarettes and the Welsh ban? Contact Wholesale Manager care of kent@wholesalemanager.co.uk