And who better to give a perspective on that journey than an industry executive whose company markets something very different from the e-cigarette?
So, for the first in a series of one-on-one interviews, ECigIntelligence spoke to James Higgs.
A long-serving veteran of Scandinavian Tobacco Group, Henri Wintermans and British American Tobacco, he now heads up marketing for Nicoccino, the Swedish maker of a tobacco-free oral nicotine film which is sold in the UK, Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland, as well as online.
A scheduled speaker at the Next Generation Nicotine Delivery conference in London next week, Higgs shares his views with ECigIntelligence readers on marketing, regulation, and – perhaps above all – education.
ECigIntelligence: The market for non-combustible nicotine products is becoming quite crowded. There’s NRT, there are actual tobacco products like snus, of course there are e-cigarettes, and then there are innovations like Nicoccino. How do you see these co-existing in the future? Will one type triumph over all the others, or will they continue to serve different consumer needs in parallel?
James Higgs: Our belief is that, similar to alcohol, different moments require different solutions. People are different and have different preferences and needs. Only by having a plethora of choices, a majority of people might be enticed to review their current habits and consider other options.
ECigIntelligence: How well do you think today’s products meet consumer needs? What improvements can be made in order to win more smokers over to non-combustible products?
James Higgs: To some extent the product design will be important. However, we truly believe that the must-win battles lie within improving the public’s education with regards to nicotine.
A further clarification of the regulatory landscape in order to make these nicotine-containing products more accessible is also much needed.
It comes down to innovation, influencing consumer perception, education, accessibility and ease of use.
ECigIntelligence: There are plenty of opportunities – but what about threats? What are the biggest stumbling blocks facing these products? Are there any specific regulatory issues on your horizon, and what can be done to overcome them?
James Higgs: The single biggest threat to the category is regulation. And in combination with the common misconceptions around nicotine, this is the main problem, as it is influencing regulation and legislation.
There is also a need for better alignment between countries, as even within the EU we have very different regulations in different countries. Even the revised Tobacco Products Directive is set as a minimum requirement, leaving each country to implement additional regulations on top, as they see fit.
We would like to see clear legislation for “nicotine-containing [consumer] products” (NCPs) and we actively invite engagement with regulators across the world to share their experience and learnings.
ECigIntelligence: Where do you see the big future growth coming, both for Nicoccino and for the non-combustible sector in general? Are there any parts of the world with potential that are being overlooked?
James Higgs: Beyond the markets where we are already present in western Europe, Nicoccino would naturally like to penetrate markets where there is a heritage and an understanding of oral tobacco and/or alternative nicotine products, such as the U.S., India and Scandinavia.
China and Asia in general will also be interesting emerging markets to follow as new regulation is being put into place to curb smoking.
ECigIntelligence: Finally, what are the three things you’d most like to achieve over the next 12 months?
James Higgs: Raise awareness about the benefits of Nicoccino as an interesting alternative and recreational nicotine product, offering people a solution and choice.
Continue to grow in the UK and our other western European markets.
Get regulatory approval in the whole of the EU.