After a turbulent year for the e-cigarette industry in 2017, vapers are torn between optimism and apprehension with regards to what 2018 may have in store for them. Fraser Cropper, Chairman of the IBVTA provides us with an insight into how he predicts the year will pan out and what vapers can expect to happen in 2018.
The IBVTA’s Chairman’s 2018 Prediction
2018 marks what is reasonable to accept as the 10th anniversary of electronic cigarettes first being available in the UK. The UK vaping industry and vaping customers have come such a long way in this ten years. For those that have been involved across this period, particularly those attempting to run a vaping business, large or small, it has been an exhausting journey. Unlike most emerging sectors, and particularly remarkable for one that brings such transformative potential as vaping, our industry has existed and grown under an ever present fundamental threat to simply being able to continue to produce and sell our products. From the MHRA’s MLX 34 consultation in 2010, to the draft TPD issued just before Christmas 2012, through all its drafting and implementing stages, operating a vaping business has been fraught with worry and risk. 2018 perhaps offers the first year when our sector can start to look forward with some optimism and with business plans that do not need closed eyes and a pair of dice to implement.
However, there remains many risks and obstacles to vaping being able to be universally accepted as the product it is. At the root of all potential and threat is smoking.
Vaping exists only because smoking continues as a legitimate product; legitimate in the sense that every government allows for its sale and the pestilence it brings, whilst simultaneously wringing hands in despair. Vaping provides the best counter to the smoking plague that society has ever had access to, yet its reputation is unfairly bruised and battered by direct unjustified assaults. This comes from media, as perhaps one would expect, and many otherwise trusted bodies, such as the WHO, and until just recently the BMA, who still equivocate or worse still use their positions knowingly or otherwise to sow seeds of doubt or misinformation. These vaping naysayers thankfully are becoming ever fewer and shriller, whilst the informed majority have been able to gain the insight and confidence of what vaping is offering to the public health options vis a vis smoking cessation.
At the IBVTA, we recognise and respect the shifts that have taken place across the last few years, and also the leadership that many have shown in the Public Health and academic arenas to carry the positive messages that industry and vapers are just not able to achieve. It is the recognition that vaping as a smoking cessation panacea is not going to be delivered solely if at all through conventional medical ‘prescription’, but that the private commercial sector has led and needs to in the future be enabled to continue the delivery and customer support that has provided such remarkable impact in the UK particularly. I believe that 2018 will be the year when we start to deliver routinely, a coherent message of what vaping’s potential truly is and the independent sector’s role in its delivery.
For this to be achieved, the vaping industry needs to show itself as being willing and able to be trusted to deliver product and complementary services to assist and play its part in the smoking cessation collective responsibility. Some parts of the UK independent vaping sector have lost sight of the simple truth about what our products are offering to the majority of users. Vaping to most is quite simply the product that has allowed them to either stop or reduce their smoking dependency. They see the product as this simple and use it as such.
To some, vaping is much more consuming, it is as much a hobby as it is a function, and that is ok as well as vaping is available for all and can be used to fulfil so many needs – one of its fundamental virtues. However, I believe we over-state and over-emphasise this minority user relationship at our peril. Perhaps 2018, will be the year when vaping is redefined by our industry, in demystifying our offering, developing simpler products and refocusing on the core majority, who ultimately are, as crude as it perhaps may sound, the commercially relevant majority. This refocus of the proposition will also, I think, assist in the coherence of messaging and agenda with the wider stakeholders and create confidence further that the independent industry is maturing and accepting greater responsibility for its own sector’s future.
Back to tobacco though. Part of our messaging challenge is that there exists a crude conflation of nicotine with the smoking of combusted tobacco. Nicotine is often used as a synonym for smoking which is perhaps understandable when only smoking was available for its delivery. Now however, it is a real detriment to clear and correct messaging of the risk profiles of both products. This simple conflation and related opportunity for confusion is readily understood by tobacco businesses and often used to its benefit; Heat not Burn (HnB) is a perfect example.
I see in 2018, not only PMI but all major tobacco businesses launching their own variant of HnB and continuing the misdirection that is already present with IQOS. One could contend that HnB would not have been developed if it were not for the challenge laid down by vaping. I believe it is a direct response to vaping’s impact on tobacco businesses’ sales not the finding of a conscience. We are unfortunately seeing HnB products and its agenda being used to confuse the space vaping has opened between vaping and tobacco. HnB is also currently not subject to tobacco excise. This is understood and we are seeing at the European level worrying early signs that this confusion of vaping and HnB, or more broadly nicotine containing products, is in danger of subjecting both to tobacco regime excise and potentially yet more stringent regulation. Therefore, 2018 will be a year where the IBVTA is contributing further and more effectively in holding to account UK regulators and any residual influence available and necessary within the EU to extract vaping once and for all from this Gordian knot. Ultimately, whilst likely not to be achieved in 2018, the journey will have started whereby in the UK at least, vaping will have commenced its ultimately inexorable journey to full and final release from the corruption of tobacco confusion. The objective being a regulatory environment that finally considers vaping as a standalone product group that needs to be enabled and supported to deliver its enormous still untapped potential.