Electronic cigarettes have been around for nine years now but, despite the smoking ban in the UK, they have been slow to catch on. However, figures from the Electronic Cigarette Consumer Association earlier this year showed that the UK electronic cigarette industry is now worth about £5million a year and that the number of users of the devices is expected to reach one million this year, with about 250,000 people already using them regularly.
E-cigarettes are the same size and shape as a normal cigarette and release varying amounts of nicotine in a warm water mist, simulating the flavour of a cigarette. They normally come in three parts – a cartridge of liquid nicotine, an atomiser and a battery – but manufacturers are developing instant-use versions. Some have a red LED light at the tip to resemble a burning tip, although some brands have switched to green because they looked so realistic that users received abuse in bars and clubs. As e-cigarettes produce water vapour rather than smoke, they can legally be used in enclosed public spaces in the UK.
One of the leading brands in the UK is E-Lites which has about a third of the UK market and is seeing average monthly sales rises of 18 per cent. “Around 5,000 new customers are making the switch and coming on board each month, and the early signs are that 2012 will be our biggest year since we established E-Lites in 2007,” says E-Lites co-founder and director Adrian Everett. “During 2011, we saw a 400 per cent increase in sales via the website, making us the UK’s leading electronic cigarette manufacturer.”
Several players are now driving sales in the UK market such as Gamucci, Vapourlites, Nicolites and VIP. Interest has also been boosted by media coverage including storylines in TV soaps as well as celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio being spotted smoking e-cigarettes. “In the last 12 months, we have seen astonishing growth in the electronic cigarettes market within the UK,” says Adrian at E-Lites. “There’s been a significant rise in general awareness among the public, and that is increasing exponentially as smokers recognise the advantages of an alternative to tobacco cigarettes that is familiar and satisfying but 99 per cent healthier, significantly cheaper and legally unrestricted for use almost anywhere. Although they are used very much like a cigarette, E-Lites contain no tobacco, tar, carbon monoxide or harmful chemicals and do not produce the cigarette odour that so many of us find unpleasant.”
The latest product development from E-Lites is its instant-use E30, which provides the equivalent of about 30 cigarettes. It allows users to light up instantly with no charging required so is perfect for an evening out. Available in regular, menthol and light varieties, the E30 is also rechargeable.
Early skepticism about e-cigarettes has been dispelled by regulation which, in the UK, is through trading standards supported by the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association (ECITA). The association has developed an ECITA mark that is proof that a product has been regulated and complies with British trading standards.
Sales of e-cigarettes are primarily direct to consumers online but some manufacturers and suppliers hope to build sales through pubs, bars and clubs. Last year, E-Lites agreed a deal with wholesale giant Booker to make them more readily available while this year it is in negotiations with a number of large bar and club operators. “We’re seeing an increasing demand for the products across a range of venues,” Adrian says. “With increasingly tough restrictions on both the sale and use of tobacco products, E-Lites electronic cigarettes represent a promising new opportunity for bar, pub and club managers.”
He points out that, after the ban on cigarette machines in the licensed trade, e-cigarettes represent a valuable new revenue stream, with a far greater margin than that offered by conventional tobacco products – estimated to be between 600 and 800 per cent higher in the case of E-Lites. “The main attraction for venue owners is that smokers can enjoy their familiar hit of nicotine from the warmth of the pub, club or bar without impacting on other customers,” Adrian adds. “There is no need to create additional smoking spaces which can be costly and difficult to accommodate, yet crucial to attracting and retaining customers.”