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Home Features & interviews Exclusive: UKVIA’s John Dunne gives an essential COVID-19 update

Exclusive: UKVIA’s John Dunne gives an essential COVID-19 update

March 23, 2020

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UKVIA director John Dunne, right, travels to China as part of an international vape industry conference

Fewer product launches, VApril going online and government-backed trading – the head of the vaping industry’s representative body paints a very different spring and summer for the industry in this exclusive interview.

The UKVIA’s director John Dunne is speaking to Vape Business in the immediate aftermath of a meeting with his UKVIA colleagues.

Last week the industry body called for vape shops to be given the kind of protected “key retailer” status afforded food shops and pharmacies, which would see them able to trade even in the midst of a lockdown.

And although Dunne says, knowingly, that “Ministers have been rather busy” in recent days, there is a confidence in the industry that the UK’s generally science-based attitude to vaping should see it follow France and Italy’s example in allowing vape stores to continue trading.

(Update: As of 24 March all vape shops must close their doors until further notice having been controversially excluded from a list of ‘essential’ retailers)

Meanwhile, in the noise of media reaction to the ongoing crisis, vaping has started to be identified as a ‘bogie man’, painting vaping along with smoking as a risk factor for coronavirus sufferers.

“The USA are trying to do that and it’s getting picked up by some of the lower-end papers in the UK,” Dunne says waspily.

“There hasn’t been one scientific study that’s shown any connection between vaping and this virus,” he adds.

He describes the idea that smokers would be put off attempting to switch away from combustible cigarettes – at this time especially – as “the biggest fear” for the UKVIA.

But there is a call, also, for vapers to be mindful of those around them, not puffing great clouds of the smoke into the air while others are around them. That’s good practice at any time but has become suddenly essential to appease others’ fears – even if they’re unfounded. Vapour requires social distancing too.

While the picture of the ground is changing day by day, how is manufacturing and distribution side of the industry dealing with the coronavirus outbreak? “It’s a novel challenge. What we do know is that our supply chains are strong and in some cases we have suppliers repurposing their factories to make essential items such as hand gels,” Dunne says.

And though the supply chains are robust, he believes suppliers are now going to focus on core ranges, paring back plans for what was likely to be a high number of innovative product launches over the coming months.

Dunne says: “What we’re likely to find is that there will be a focus on getting existing products to market and there is going to be a slowdown in newer products you’ll see coming on to the market.”

For retailers who have still not taken full advantage of the vaping category, this stable market could “absolutely” provide a useful, calm moment to take a step into the market:

“Hopefully this could provide an opportunity for retailers who don’t understand the category to become a bit more familiar with it. There is going to be a real local demand for products from people who can’t go about their usual shopping routine.”

For the UKVIA there are other immediately-pressing issues such as what happens to the upcoming VApril campaign. “The VApril campaign is just days away and we’re looking at innovative ways to use online tools to replace our in-store events,” Dunne says. “If we do it in an informal way, I actually think it could be really effective because people will be working from home and can view any VApril content during the day.”

As the picture changes regularly UKVIA plans to provide advice to stores that meets the challenges stores never expected to face, using its website and social media channels to do so.