Nicotine replacement therapy sales have fallen for the first time since 2008. The end to their four years of consistent annual growth coincides with a boost in popularity for controversial vaping devices.
In 2003, Karl Fagerström, a leading scientist in smoking control said “the battle against tobacco related mortality is over when nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is not used for cessation anymore but instead of cigarettes”.
At the time this opinion was met with significant resistance. After all, if the pharmaceutical industry developed and invested in NRT wouldn’t there be a risk that Big Pharma could seem more like Big Tobacco?
Twelve years on and pharmacy backed nicotine replacement products have been vastly overtaken by e-cigarettes in the popularity stakes.
Vaping sales have increased by 75% to £459m while spending on other nicotine replacement products has fallen by 3% to £137m.
The rise of e-cigarettes
There are numerous reasons why NRT has suffered a decline in sales.
Nicotine gum and patches lack the physical motions of the authentic smoking experience that e-cigs provide. Also important is the fact that the profitable promise of the e-cig industry lead to healthy competition.
As with any healthy competition in the marketplace, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit started driving it forward and making it more exciting. One of the main consequences for vapers was that they could easily access quality vaping equipment and enjoy more options than ever for personalising their nicotine replacement system. For example, most electronic cigarette retailers now stock huge selections ofe-liquids – just visit e-cigarette giants TABlites, UK ECig Store and Kik to see the evidence.
Based on the data for the UK market, it could be argued that smokers trying to quit are turning to e-cigarettes rather than conventional nicotine replacement products (dotted lines represent projected growth).
A rocky road ahead
As the chart above shows, the projected UK vapour device sales for 2016 is around £1bn. The upward trajectory is predicted to continue but we shouldn’t be too quick to declare the industry a success. Neither should we believe it will save the lives of smokers all over the world.
Not only is the traditional cigarette industry about 30 times larger than its electronic counterpart, but there are many who believe vaping devices are a dangerous gateway to the real thing.
In Hawaii, the popularity of electronic cigarettes has prompted the US state to raise the legal smoking age. From 2016, only adults aged 21 or above will be able to buy tobacco or electronic cigarette products.
Other influential parts of America, such as New York City, have increased the legal smoking age and are looking at implementing laws that will limit e-cigarette users’ ability to vape in certain locations.
Questions of traceability
There are also issues afoot for electronic cigarette companies in Europe. From 2016, all e-cig retailers will face an EU directive that will demand traceability for their e-liquids. This means that any company selling e-liquid must detail a full list of ingredients with each bottle.
However, some companies are preparing for this directive in a way that could give them the edge over others. As Prague Post reported on the topic of British e-cig companies investing to beat regulations , multiple e-cigarette retailers have invested in a setup that will enable them to create their own e-liquid.
With dedicated production plants, e-cig retailers will be able to provide exact details of their e-liquid’s ingredients. They will also be able to experiment, specialise and eventually carry more weight in the e-liquid market.