2016 – The end of vaping?

Posted 5th January 2016 by Mawsley
The end of 2015 set up the bulk of discussion surrounding the coming year: the confirmation that Article 20 will be implemented (pending a final ruling) overshadows everything else. Vapers face challenges but small to medium vape companies look set for almost impossible challenges. At the outset though, this is not the end for vaping as a technology even if it means we will see a huge upheaval.

Despite Big Tobacco’s moves into the electronic cigarette market they have failed to dominate it and ecigs continue to strip away their long-term customers. Both Big T and the pharmaceutical companies have been deeply hurt by the electronic revolution and, if they can’t own it, the one thing they’d like to see is others fail to succeed. It means we are going to see a continuation of the virulent anti-vaping propaganda and political manoeuvring on a global scale.

The announcement from the Advocate General that Totally Wicked was met with bitter disappointment by advocates, vapers and companies alike. She wrote: “Hardly any EU legislation has led to such fierce legal disputes.” She believes that the: “difference in treatment is not detrimental to manufacturers and importers of e-cigarettes,” and, “the claim that Article 20 of the Directive fails to comply with the principles of equal treatment and free competition must therefore be rejected.”

The finding does not compel the judges at the Court of Justice of the European Union to agree but it does indicate the direction they are likely to go next year. Totally Wicked have no right to appeal when their ruling is made although they, or other companies, have the right to bring further legal cases based on different arguments or new evidence. As it stands, the balance of probability is that the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) and Article 20 will be implemented in May in line with the draft proposals announced in 2015.

Of vapers and potential vapers, the biggest losers are set to be smokers who have yet to try vaping as a means of quitting traditional cigarettes. The argument has often been put that the easy way to circumvent incoming restrictions will be to buy directly from China. Unfortunately this opportunity is set to contract. During 2015, China has been a powerhouse of innovation and products but the country faces its own proposed ban. The move is likely to curtail the development and supply of vaping products leading to a decline in range and quantity. The large manufacturers have been cosying up to tobacco companies and their focus looks set to become the production of cigalikes and basic Gen2-style starter kits conforming to the new 2ml tank size ruling.

As realisation dawns that regulated mods are liable to break and RDA heads may run in short supply we could see a surge in demand over the first six months for drippers, mech mods and the recently out of favour Genisis tank as a means to future-proof vape kit. Long-standing vapers will appreciate that cotton, stainless mesh, lithium-ion cells and Kanthal will continue to be available long after legislation comes into effect. This could have the benefit of breathing some life into the all-but-dead second-hand market for these items as new vapers may be seeking them out to augment their collections.

Some contend that China will continue to produce low-cost, high-quality devices for export but this relies upon the demand remaining at current levels. For those who have watched Far East manufacturing trends, production is reliant on demand. As sales fall off machine time is devoted to something else that will sell in numbers. The impact of the TPD is widely predicted to be that numbers of vapers will fall during the course of the year and into 2017 – do they have the desire or the ability to make high performing equipment that conforms to Article 20 stipulations?

What we do have in the UK is a saturated market. So many new companies have been set up over the last twelve months to meet demand, build on a hobby or grab a ride on the gravy train – could it be possible that the new challenges will clear out the worse ones and leave us with those who understand marketing and customer service better?

And what of eliquid? More than any other aspect, this aspect of ecigs will come under huge financial and administrative impositions. Companies face limits to the size of bottle they can sell, the nicotine strength contained within them and the need for a paper trail. Most will simply be unable to conform and fall away, some will chance their arm and invest while others look to see if they can come up with a creative solution to circumvent the legislation.

It has a direct relevance to the cost of a bottle of juice. While some used to be happy to pay premium prices the bulk of the market resides with the cheaper options. The States has seen a continual shift away from high price points and UK makers are going to have to consider how they can balance customer demand and financial burdens with an inability to advertise to raise sales turnover.

The UK has seen two new vape magazines launch in 2015 that (along with the imported American Vape News Monthly) all rely on advertising revenue. This will vanish overnight. Cigarette brands managed to survive such a ban but it is highly unlikely that most UK vape companies have the customer base or general level of awareness in the smoking/soon-to-quit community to do so.

Of course, this assumes that the MHRA are able to cope with the influx of applications – the New Nicotine Alliance doubts it. And some companies will simply chose to ignore the MHRA route and see if the authorities have the capacity to police the new system. Trading Standards departments struggle to keep on top of their current workload; it is difficult to imagine they could cope with the new swathe of businesses to be monitored.

According to the VIP ecig company, they say: “One company has already spent over £2 million and four years of research and development trying to create a product that would comply with possible medical regulations, as a way of future proofing their business and e-cig – but they have failed, and the time and money invested is gone.” Why continue to try to jump through an impossible and expensive hoop?

One thing remains certain, legislators are trying to control something that has continually developed and changed dramatically over the last five years – and therein lies a hope for the future: necessity is the mother of invention. While British American Tobacco and Phillip Morris develop their new (still) tobacco-based ecig products, it remains possible for the vaping community to come up with inventive and better workarounds.

Jac Vapour, another company you would assume to be a beneficiary of a collapsed home market, are also positive about the future. They announced that they will be increasing the range of approved flavours and developing products to be fully compliant with the TPD. “We can also expect a slowdown in terms of product development and innovation in the latter half of the 2016,” they write, “as the new rules brought in by the TPD begin to take affect. This may mean a flurry of new releases prior to May, as manufacturers rush to get products to market ahead of the regulations.”

Rather than an end to vaping, the coming year will be a transition to a more corporate market. Also, from an almost total ban, ecigs are creeping back into the thinking of the NHS. Five more Scottish health boards have announced that they are reviewing their policies in line with Glasgow & Clyde.

Where does it all leave us? Those of us who have watched friends start companies and flourish? We who love our juices and devices? There is cold comfort in a future that we will still have access to cigalikes and the low performing devices that fail to satisfy. Vapers in Canada and Chicago, for example, recently came together to protest against their choices and freedoms being taken from them. Will we ever reach a stage where UK vapers are similarly motivated en masse to act? Almost definitely not. The luke-warm response to a very workable BREXIT-linked petition demonstrates that most vapers will only do what they see as being in their personal, immediate self-interests.

But if you take the comments from social media into account then Clive Bates is possibly on the money when he opines: “One mistake legislators often make is to assume that everyone will comply with their laws and act in the way they expect. This is unlikely, and I expect to see the considerable ingenuity applied to subverting this directive and showing how worthless it is.”

For those of us who wish to continue to vape the way we currently do, and current vape businesses to continue to trade, then many of our forum comments appear to feature in his tick-list of subversion and civil disobedience: hoarding and freezing liquids, the illegal trade of nicotine base and homemade juices, UK companies to “move” abroad (albeit only online) and forums to relocate to foreign servers to name just a few.

No, 2016 is not going to be the year vape died. It will be the year things start to hit home, it will be a year of activity and change. And maybe if we are lucky, one that contains a couple of surprises. What do you think? How do you think vaping is going to cope with 2016?