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Vape: A great opportunity for the pharmacy sector

June 8, 2021

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(Credit: Dinner Lady)

While vape specialists and convenience stores are already aware of vape’s potential, many pharmacists are yet to explore this profitable category. Time for that to change says Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski

As the UK looks towards a smoke-free future – by as soon as 2030 if current targets are met – then harm reduction products such as vape, pouches and heated tobacco will play an essential part of the mix of solutions to get more smokers to quit.

It’s an opportunity that many pharmacies have, thus far, not taken advantage of.

“Currently, Nielsen data shows chemists are worth just one percent of the e-cigarette category, with a decline of 24 percent year-on-year – against total market growth of 22 percent,” says a spokesperson for OK Vape. “So, clearly there is a significant missed opportunity here.”

Of course, with Boots now stocking JUUL in its stores nationwide, the UK’s independent pharmacy industry has an opportunity to take its cut from this growing and profitable market.

Vape manufacturers are keen to point out, when it comes for support, the category has some highly credible backers.

“Vape presents a huge opportunity for pharmacies – as it’s increasingly recognised as the most effective alternative to smoking, as was highlighted in the latest annual review from Public Health England,” says John Taylor, chief marketing officer at Vape Dinner Lady.

Because pharmacies are such a trusted source of information and advice for consumers, a well-informed member of staff can prove invaluable, according to Taylor:

“The challenge from a vape perspective is getting adult smokers to understand the benefits of vape and its harm reduction potential. The same PHE report also flagged up that an increasing proportion of the smoking population believe vaping is as harmful or more harmful than cigarettes – flying in the face of PHE’s repeated messaging that vaping is 95% less harmful than cigarettes.”

One way of building credibility and trust for the category as a whole can be by introducing a breadth of products in your range, suppliers suggest.

“Introducing more vape lines into pharmacies would be a great way to address this as consumers may be more likely to respond positively to advice given over the pharmacy counter than the vape shop till, and to accept the research and statistics supporting vape when they’re presented by a pharmacist,” John Taylor says.

According to OK Vape, one of the biggest challenges for pharmacies is to pick a range that suits their specific needs. As customers will be arriving in-store looking to quit, cig-a-likes can be the perfect option: “We believe the market in pharmacy is different to other areas of retail. and as such the product range should be too open systems and even closed pod systems can be intimidating for those looking to give up smoking and so cigalikes – with their traditional look and feel – are a natural fit for Pharmacy.”

Similarly, Dinner Lady Vape says that the market a pharmacy is likely to attract means that disposable options make sense:

“Disposables like the Dinner Lady Vape Pen are an increasingly popular choice for first time vapers, and therefore an ideal product for the pharmacy sector. Priced at £4.99 RRP – less than half the price of a packet of cigarettes but lasting around 400 puffs, the equivalent to 20 cigarettes – the Vape Pen is an affordable way to learn more about vaping as an alternative to cigarettes.”

Other market innovations also look set to help those pharmacy businesses stocking vape products. One is ‘nic salts’ which can make vape a more satisfying experience for users – thus ensuring vape keeps former smokers away from tobacco for good.

“Nic salts are relatively new to the market,” says Taylor. “Compared with the original e-liquid formulations, containing synthetic freebase nicotine, salt nicotine formulations can deliver higher strengths of nicotine without a harsh throat hit. They also absorb into the blood stream more quickly and easily, to satiate the nicotine cravings more rapidly.”

While this is an engaging and innovative market, pharmacies must ensure that they – like the rest of the vape category – protect younger people from accessing these nicotine products. According to OK Vape, this might affect the options a pharmacy decides to stock, especially if your shoppers’ are likely to be intimidated by more complex offerings:

“Know your customer – and that may well mean that they are looking for a simpler option. Aside from the device, keep it to tobacco and menthol in flavour – closely aligned to cigarettes. Understand that even though vaping has evolved, for many of your customers this is a completely new type of product for them and as such we should be keeping it simple and clean.”

While there is a temptation to think of pharmacies as a ‘potential’ market for vape, the numbers suggest the opportunity has been there for some time. By 2019 Nielsen was reporting vape sales in chemists rising to £57.4m.

“Since that time, the market for disposable e-cigarettes has been growing steadily, with more and more options on the market,” says Vape Dinner Lady’s John Taylor.

So, if your business has yet to take full advantage of the vape category, now is surely the time. With credible brands, effective products and many pharmacies already profiting from the category, you might just be a few steps away from your next major profit opportunity.