Tim Phillips, Managing Director, E-Cig Intelligence
This post is a part of our 2021 vape predictions.
I think most people would be keen to see the back of 2020 and head into 2021 without looking back. Yes, lockdown and the economic hardship which many in the vape sector have experienced has been bad. This has affected manufacturing but particularly vape stores which in many parts of the world have not been spared shutdown as "essential services" and have had to close for long periods this year. But 2020 also brought the full impact of the US lung crisis across to the UK and European markets and gathered lots of media attention over here, causing existing vape consumers to start to doubt the safety of the products they use as well as putting many newbies off from starting. In the US, the deadline for vape products to submit an application for approval to be sold in the US (the Premarket tobacco application or PMTA) passed in September, with little in the way of further clarity on how the regulatory landscape will shape over the coming months. Reputedly the FDA received thousands of applications.
In the US, the deadline for vape products to submit an application for approval to be sold in the US (the PMTA) passed in September with little in the way of further clarity on how the regulatory landscape will shape over the coming months. Reputedly the FDA received thousands of applications. The huge cost and complexity of fulfilling all the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s requirements for a premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) are well illustrated by the 125,000 pages and 110 scientific studies of Juul Labs’ submission. But there was also some hope that smaller manufacturers, who at least got something in prior to the September deadline, would be treated with some leniency. In any event, it is clear that the FDA will have their work cut out trying to establish which brands and manufacturers should continue to be allowed on the market, and which need to be removed; the prospect of the FDA issuing a list which makes clear those companies who have successfully submitted an application still looks some way off.
So what to think about for 2021? Well, for a start the long-drawn-out Brexit process will come to an end on 31st December, giving some UK businesses the hope that this will mean the end of restrictions brought in as part of the EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). This may be true eventually, but unfortunately, it already seems well down the priority list; a bill to allow the UK to set its own limits for vape products set for a second reading in January looks unlikely to go forward due to other more pressing issues. We are likely to see the UK continue to follow many of the EU's laws for some time to come, so the development of the policy discussions around the revision of the new EU TPD (referred to as TPD3, since it will be the 3rd revision of this piece of legislation) in Brussels is worth following closely. It is still very early stages and we are unlikely to see anything become law before 2023, but issues such as flavour restrictions, which have been partially inspired by US state law and have been embraced by a number of EU countries, will be discussed, as will further hand wringing about youth access and concerns that these products promote nicotine usage. This will certainly affect the thinking on vape products in the UK next year and in future years.
What about the US, with a new administration under President Biden, rumoured to be more anti-vaping than Trump? Well, it is too early to tell, but I suspect that there will be much less policy of note (the new administration has plenty of other things to worry about such as COVID and the economy) and attention will focus back onto the FDA and how they roll-out the PMTA enforcement administrative process. If past form is anything to go by, then this is unlikely to be a rapid process.
The growth of other alternatives to combustible cigarettes are likely to have an impact for 2021 in both the UK and EU markets and will also likely be considered as part of the TPD3. Many consumers who may have been inspired to look at alternatives to smoking through vape products are now being offered a number of other nicotine products, from heated tobacco to tobacco-free nicotine pouches. These seem to be gaining some traction in a number of markets and will speed up innovation in the sector. Nicotine-replacement therapy products such as nicotine patches, sprays and ingestibles which are medicines and have therefore traditionally been harder to innovate quickly are also changing with a number of new Bluetooth connected nicotine sprays coming onto the market, perhaps capitalising on general consumer distrust of some vape products. We think these will also be important to watch in 2021 as pharmaceutical companies look to the opportunities to provide new medicinal products in the space and all of these nicotine products will potentially have an impact on developing legislation to come which may impact vape.
But in general, our view at ECigIntelligence is that the tide is still going in the right direction, even though it doesn't always look like it. Combustible cigarettes are declining in all western markets and it is likely that consumers will continue to look for alternatives, whether that is a vape product or something similar. The question of timing in this space has always been difficult to gauge: it has taken longer for consumers to embrace alternatives such as vape, and for governments and lawmakers to understand the new products than was first expected. But the results, even if slow, might be more profound than we thought a few years ago. Let’s look to 2021 as the start of a new chapter in this space…