The first modern e-cigarette was created in the 2000s but in just under twenty years vaping has exploded to become a global industry worth billions. As innovation continues to flood the market, demand is ever-increasing, with both physical and online shops thriving.
There are three countries leading the pack in terms of fondness for vaping: the US, Japan, and—of course—the UK.
The UK Vaping Market
The UK vaping industry really took off in 2007, when smoking was banned in public places. Since then, vaping has flourished and gained a steady community as well as countless small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Today the UK is arguably the world leader in vaping culture and uptake, with vapers making up 5.6% (3 million) of the population.
Britain is already a top producer of vaping supplies, shipping products all over the world (including China, where e-cigarettes were first invented). The UK has more than 1,700 independent vape stores within the country with retail sales of £600M, according to the UK Vaping Industry Association (UK VIA).
The growth of the UK vaping industry can be seen in how diversified the products have become. From original cigalikes to complex vape mods and RDAs that allow vapers to assemble their own setup to the staggering range of e-liquid flavours available, the UK is a vaper’s paradise.
To see another sign of how advanced the UK market is, just take a look at how sophisticated the vaping community has become. Even niche stores are emerging, catering to specific crowds from cloud-chasers to dry herb vapers. It helps that the barrier to entry is very low, with both equipment and e-liquids being relatively cheap to create.
From Smoking to Vaping
A huge reason why vaping has become so popular in the UK is the support from local health officials, who champion it as a healthier alternative to smoking (although there is still a long way to go on this front). Trying to push smokers to go cold turkey is a strategy that doesn’t often stick and other methods like nictotine gum or patches just don’t fill the void that quitting the fags leaves. Vaping makes for a gentler transition since the sensation is so similar.
Scientists have repeatedly confirmed that vaping has fewer carcinogens and toxins compared to smoking. In fact, the Royal College of Physicians in London, a prominent medical group, released a 200-page report stating that vaping is up to 95% safer than smoking and smokers can be encouraged to switch. Backing this up was Public Health England, which promoted e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking and even suggested that devices can be sold in UK hospitals.
All of this positive research has paved the way for vaping to become more widely accepted in the UK, despite the fact that so much of the UK press make constant baseless claims about its negative effects. The fact remains that half of the vapers in the UK have quit smoking completely, a much more drastic rate than anywhere else in Europe, and each day, more than 400 people on average switch to vaping.
Consequently, the rise of vaping has also meant the decline of the cigarette industry, which is why many tobacco and pharmaceutical companies are now trying to pivot to selling e-cigarettes. The British American Tobacco (BAT) is one such company with a massive 50% vaping market share in the UK, along with global giants such as Imperial Brands and Philip Morris.
Another incentive for smokers to switch is that vaping is simply a lot cheaper. One bottle of e-liquid costs anywhere from £4 to £18 on average, while a pack of cigarettes costs slightly more. The difference is that it usually takes vapers one to two weeks to consume a bottle of e-liquid. Smokers, on the other hand, can finish one pack per day, burning through their money much more quickly. It’s been estimated that replacing smoking with vaping can save you up to £800 per year (that’d pay for a pretty nice holiday).
Along with the approval of many health officials, vaping in the UK is much more accessible compared to, say, the US because our regulations are currently far less strict.
In terms of products, vaping brands can only issue e-liquids with a maximum volume of 10 ml and a maximum nicotine strength of 20%. Likewise, refillable tanks must only hold 2 ml maximum. Additives such as caffeine or colouring aren’t allowed and e-liquids must be child-resistant, with specific labelling requirements. Ultimately, suppliers can only sell specific vaping products after submitting information to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and waiting to receive approval for 6 months.
An interesting loophole is that there’s no maximum volume for e-liquids if they have no nicotine. In order to give customers a larger supply, manufacturers have creatively taken to offering e-liquids with 0 mg nicotine, which can exceed 10 mL in size. These are called short-fill e-liquids, and customers can add nicotine shots to them anyway after purchasing.
Outside of sales and manufacturing, vaping regulations are still under flux. Luckily, there’s no sin tax for vaping products, unlike tobacco. Whilst vaping is not explicitly banned in any specific location, many property owners will enforce their own ban. Vaping is banned on most public transport as well as hospitals although the All Parliamentary Group for Vaping (APPGV), are advocating making outdoor areas available for vapers and creating designated indoor vaping areas in offices. In addition, there are ongoing campaigns to relax regulations on packaging and advertising.
The UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) stands out as the UK’s top forum for supporting and developing the vaping industry. They’re very active in promoting vaping as a healthier option compared to smoking and campaigning for regulations. Their projects include a yearly national conference and the UK’s first awareness campaign for smokers looking to break the habit.
For an organisation that’s also influential but more focused on those within the vaping community, there’s the Independent British Vape Trade Association, which is meant to help members reach compliance and build their vaping businesses. More than half of UK vaping manufacturers and brands are part of this association, which is a prime resource for learning about the industry and connecting with experts.
On a more casual note, vapers and non-vapers alike can join the free UK VapeFest every year, where vaping vendors gather from all over. Amidst food and music, attendees get to meet other vape enthusiasts and shop for high-quality gear.
The UK as a Vaping Hotspot
Vaping is definitely at an all-time high in the UK, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else with such a widespread community and easy access to equipment and e-liquids. The two factors that make the UK such a vaping hotspot is the candid and upfront evidence-based support from public health officials, as well as its relatively forgiving regulations. All in all, it’s paid off, since a vibrant vaping scene that’s very much open to entrepreneurship and innovations has emerged, and millions of people have dropped smoking.
Since vaping is such a fast-moving industry, it only gets more exciting and colourful each year all over the world—and the UK is right at the cutting-edge of it.