Vape stores fall behind non-specialists for the first time for UK e-cig sales

Specialist vape stores are no longer the most popular channel for the purchase of vaping products in the UK, according to figures from Smoking in England, which gathers together data for policymakers and others.

Last year was the first in which vape shops have fallen behind non-specialist retailers as a source of e-cigarette products in the UK. Unsurprisingly, online sales rose significantly during the pandemic, though the online channel remained in third place behind specialist and non-specialist bricks-and mortar retailers.

Overall, rechargeable devices with fillable tanks remain the most popular style of vaping device. Mods appear to have dropped off somewhat since 2019, while disposables have seen a significant increase between 2020 and 2021 according to the latest national data.

Lower nicotine strengths appear to be more popular, with almost half the survey respondents who either smoke or have stopped smoking within the last year saying they use 6 mg/ml (0.6%) or less nicotine, while a minority of smokers did not know what strength they use.

The survey also found that use of e-cigarettes has plateaued among UK smokers, though smoking rates continue to decline. Vapers tend to be younger, male and, for the first time, a slight majority come from the C2 social category rather than AB, which has slipped to second place, the survey found. The split across social categories was much more even than in past years.

It also appears that vaping advocates are losing the public perception battle. E-cigarettes and cigarettes have popularly been considered to be equally harmful since 2014, the only year in which a majority of those surveyed said vaping was less harmful than smoking.

The percentage of those who believe vaping is more harmful than smoking has also stayed relatively stable over that period, while the percentage of those saying they don’t know has climbed significantly since 2020 to about 25%.

Smoking in England separates out Juul usage from general vaping and also provides a comparison with heated tobacco use. Neither Juul nor heat-not-burn (HnB) is popular in the UK, with only about 0.3% of the adult population using either, compared to 7.1% for e-cigarettes.

Antonia Di Lorenzo and Freddie Dawson ECigIntelligence staff

Image: George Walker (1781-1856) / New York Public Library

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