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John Dunne on winning in a post-COVID market  

July 12, 2021


We all hope that the UK is about to take a big step towards a post-pandemic life this month. The UKVIA’s director general, John Dunne, gives his view of what lies ahead for this vital industry

How important will it be that the vape category has a good summer in 2021?

It is critical that the industry starts to rebound now. We have already seen some positive indicators of recovery in some areas of the country and even seen some vape retailers open new branches. Clearly for shops in city centre locations, they are still suffering from a much-reduced footfall caused by home working and reduced tourism. During my market walks and discussions with shop owners, I have seen that sadly some city centre stores have closed or are just about ticking over. I am hopeful that if restrictions are further eased on 19 July, and once office workers and tourists start returning to our major towns and cities, that footfall will return and that the vaping sector will benefit from this.

Are consumer concerns about respiratory health continuing to bring new people into the category?

Unfortunately, the industry has been plagued by misinformation around vaping and COVID. However, an ever greater amount of research is now coming out to dispel these myths. There is absolutely no evidence that vaping is increasing the risk of people contracting COVID-19. A report out recently following a study of over 69,000 patients at the Mayo Clinic in the USA for example found no link between e-cigarette use and COVID-19 diagnosis.

What trends or emerging brands have you seen enter the market in recent months?

Pod systems continue to grow in popularity especially in the convenience sector, which is underdeveloped. We are also starting to see an increase in disposable devices and new products are coming onto the market all the time, which is a good sign as our sector continues to innovate and expand.

Have you seen any great ideas or advice out there for retailers who want to fully capitalise on this category?

I think the focus needs to be on education of new adult switchers. Focusing on the new entrants’ category, shop staff should leverage their expertise to advise those people who come into a shop seeking help and advice on quitting smoking. This will help ensure that smokers are offered the best possible vaping kit to suit their own specific needs. During lockdown that is precisely what was missing from the sector, when specialist retail outlets sadly had to close their doors. No single device works the same for everybody, as everyone’s needs, smoking habit, and experiences are different. Lockdown highlighted the crucial role that vape shops play, and I am glad that they are now able to again offer that brilliant advice and service.

How confident are you that in the months ahead decisions about tobacco and vape restrictions will continue the UK’s tradition for a positive, progressive approach to vape?

I am confident yes. All the discussions UKVIA are currently having with policymakers in the UK are positive. There are growing calls for the current regulations to be reviewed and revised in a positive way. The UK is at the forefront of tobacco harm reduction and the UKVIA continues to work with all stakeholders to ensure this carries on. The UKVIA’s recent ‘Blueprint for Better Regulation’ continues to be well received by MPs and the wider industry. Our evidence sessions with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Vaping are positive and we will continue to ensure that Public Heath, MPs and Members of the House of Lords are fully briefed and aware of the positive changes for the industry which we have recommended.

How is the UKVIA supporting the category over the coming months to ensure the category gets back to ‘normal’ as soon as possible?

The UKVIA is continuing to run a programme of events online and regular committee meetings for its members and the wider industry. An in-person Forum event in London is planned for July as is a campaign focused on the NHS and smoking cessation clinics around the country. Further information will be announced shortly so watch this space.

Finally, should specialist stores plan for a potential return to lockdowns in the year ahead?

We are doing everything in our powers to ensure that the specialist vaping sector receives the recognition it deserves as an essential service. We were concerned by an increase in smoking rates during the previous lockdowns and we will do all we can to prevent any further retail closures going forward.