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EXCLUSIVE: UKVIA boss looks towards a post-COVID vape landscape  

November 26, 2020

Photo: iStock

Vape Business speaks to UKVIA director John Dunne about how the vape category has fared in a difficult year and what it needs to do to come back stronger

What has been the effect of lockdowns across the UK on vape store numbers? 

As you would expect bricks and mortars stores have been significantly affected and, regrettably, we have seen some stores close. Indeed, one of our members VPZ, the largest independent vape store chain in the UK, has forecast that sales could drop by up to half during the latest lockdown.

However, the industry has proved incredibly agile and managed to transition to online, click and collect and next day deliveries to ensure their businesses sustain themselves during the pandemic.

What does the vape industry need to do to recover in 2021

John Dunne is the director of the UKVIA

There are a number of critical factors that will support the vaping sector through the turbulent times that we continue to face as we close in on 2021.

Firstly, we have to ensure, if there are any further lockdowns in the new year, that finally we are successful in achieving essential status for vape retailers. As the largest trade body representing the sector, we have been campaigning for vape shops to remain open due to the fact that they provide a vital service in helping smokers quit.

While the industry has, to date, been unsuccessful in persuading the government to treat vaping as essential, I do believe the tide is changing in our favour. This issue is very much on the political agenda with Alex Cunningham MP recently asking the Secretary for Health and Social Care to reconsider the recent decision to close vape stores.

What can the industry do to help more smokers make the transition to vape next year?

Another vital determinant of the success of the vaping sector in 2021 will be continuing to robustly respond to the misinformation about the safety of vaping products. Collectively, we need to shout louder than ever about the positive impact vaping is having on the lives of smokers by helping them to quit conventional cigarettes and to challenge unsubstantiated, generalised, fundamentally flawed, inconclusive and therefore highly-questionable research.

This perception challenge is borne out in the recent Action on Smoking and Health’s latest report on the use of e-cigarettes among adults in Great Britain. It reveals that nearly a third of the 6.9m adult smokers have not tried e-cigarettes and that there has been a five percent increase over the last year where safety concerns have been cited as the main reason for not trying vaping.

What other challenges and opportunities does the industry face in 2021?

A key event in 2021, which will determine the future success of the industry, will be the review of the Tobacco & Related Products Regulations (TRPR). This represents a major opportunity for our sector to influence regulation in the post Brexit world, for example the easing of current advertising restrictions, which would provide a much welcome boost for all vaping businesses. For the last three months we have been working closely with our members to agree a collective contribution to the consultation which is due to open before the end of the year and will form a key stage in the review process.

What valuable lessons been learned this year? 

Firstly, from an industry point of view, a lot of vape stores have learned that to ensure the resilience of their business models they must have next day, click and collect and online options available for customers if need be. Coming out of COVID-19 businesses that have proved such agility will be better placed to provide more choice for customers in the future.

Our members have proved there can be a way out of the most challenging conditions. Despite the fact that the industry, like any other sector, has experienced an unprecedented trading environment, it has been incredibly fleet of foot, with vape companies transitioning their businesses overnight to adapt to the dynamically changing circumstances.

What other reasons for optimism are there in the year ahead?

For all the misinformation out there about vaping, we must not lose sight of the rising tide of positive information that is coming from highly credible organisations that will more than balance things out. There’s real strength from the coming together of the international vaping community – when we collaborate as a global force, we have shown the value of our collective voice.