In what is still a relatively new industry, there has been some controversy about whether e-cigs actually act as a route into smoking for both children and non-smoking adults but in its research, Public Health England (PHE) found that there was no evidence "so far" of that being case.
PHE's review found that almost all of the 2.6 million adults using e-cigs in Great Britain are current or ex-smokers, most of whom are using the devices to help them quit smoking or to prevent them going back to cigarettes. It stated that emerging evidence suggests some of the highest successful quit rates are now seen among smokers who use an e-cig and also receive support from their local stop smoking services.
The only worrying aspect of PHE's findings was that 44.8% of people don't realise that using e-cigs is less harmful than smoking traditional tobacco products. Perhaps these people think they are a cheaper alternative to cigarettes or even some sort of fashion accessory, whatever they think you can bet that they'll soon be hearing messages about how much better e-cigs are for you.
Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at PHE, says: "E-cigarettes are not completely risk free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm. The problem is people increasingly think they are at least as harmful and this may be keeping millions of smokers from quitting. Local stop smoking services should look to support e-cigarette users in their journey to quitting completely."
Professor Peter Hajek from Queen Mary University London, and independent author of the review, adds: "Smokers differ in their needs and I would advise them not to give up on e-cigarettes if they do not like the first one they try. It may take some experimentation with different products and e-liquids to find the right one."
Experimentation is easy in the e-cig market thanks to the vast array of different products that are available. There are currently three key device types available within the £126m e-cigarette category (Nielsen figures excluding online sales): disposables, rechargeables (cartridges) and tanks. Rechargeables are in the lead, accounting for 58% of sales but tanks are becoming increasingly popular, accounting for 27% of sales.
Numerous e-cig products can be found on the internet but you'd imagine that smokers who have been used to buying their cigarettes in a convenience store would expect to find e-cig alternatives there too. And the fact that major tobacco companies, including Imperial Tobacco and JTI, now own e-cig brands probably gives smokers reassurance about the products they choose, as well as retailers the confidence about what they are selling.
JTI head of communications, Jeremy Blackburn, says: "A really important point for us is that there is a sales force behind our E-Lites brand.
"In the category as a whole, there is a lack of information and awareness out there, but retailers receive regular four-weekly visits from our sales team. We are getting out there and creating awareness and understanding. The trade can be confident in the knowledge we have about the category and our aim to drive that category forward."
JTI acquired E-Lites last year. The brand achieved over £21m-worth of sales in 2014 and also scored the highest awareness among consumers, which was double that of its closest competitor.
There are two ranges: E-Lites Original and the recently launched, E-Lites Curv.
In the E-Lites Original range there is an instant use kit, available in regular, menthol and light, but JTI recommends that forecourts stock its convenient starter kit which contains a rechargeable battery, two refills and a USB charger, all again in regular, menthol and light varieties. Rrp is £14.99.
E-Lites Curv was launched in June, and whereas E-Lites original is described as "ciggy-like", with a white barrel and brown filter, Curv is black and curved in shape. Blackburn says: "The key difference is the oval shape which means it won't roll away when you put it on a surface plus it has a more genuine cigarette feel in the hand and in the mouth. It contains a high quality liquid, which is made in Switzerland and it really is very convenient with its one-click charger. What is more, it takes just two-and-a-half hours to charge making it one of the quickest on the market."
Marketing material for Curv describes it as offering a "fast hassle-free charge and go" USB charger. Blackburn adds that it has a 'good safety story' as its USB stick charger has a unique fit so you can only put the Curv brand into the Curv charger. The point about safety is an important one, given the horror stories about cheap chargers causing house fires.
JTI is very excited about Curv, calling it a "game-changing e-cigarette", and saying it has been designed "to deliver a superior and convenient vaping experience with extra reassurance on e-liquid quality". It is backing the launch with pos material including branded counter-top displays as well as a nationwide print and broadcast media campaign with the theme: 'A Curv makes the difference'.
The TV part of the campaign began last month. Blackburn says: "E-Lites Curv is an e-cigarette that answers the consumer demand for quality and reassurance. After launching in convenience stores, online and in selected supermarkets and forecourts, the new campaign will drive awareness for E-Lites Curv."
There is also a six-week media partnership with the Metro newspaper and national advertising including billboards. And a digital campaign will include advertising banners being placed across social media.
But E-Lites is not the only tobacco company-backed e-cigs brand currently enjoying promotion.
This summer, Blu UK (the Imperial Tobacco owned brand) ramped up awareness with its distinctive Citroen H van-turned vape bar giving adult smokers and vapers the chance to sample the e-cigs at various festivals.
And in June, the company announced that it was mid-way through a nationwide push to support the convenience channel by dispatching over 14,000 pos display kits. These include free-standing units for the till point, door stickers, window posters and wobblers.
Blu UK's category and shopper marketing controller, Jennifer Roberts, says: "Making e-cigarettes visible to shoppers is key to driving sales of the category and for bringing people back to store. One of the biggest concerns for consumers and most asked questions is "where can I buy them?"
"E-cigarettes aren't restricted like tobacco products and can be put out on display so using the forecourt window to tell people that e-cigarettes are sold is a great way to drive footfall.
"Sitting your e-cigarette display on the counter top is also a great location as it is near the tobacco gantry but close at hand and noticeable for adult smokers considering an alternative."
Just like E-Lites and JTI, Blu UK's retailers are supported by Imperial Tobacco field representatives.
The Blu brand was launched in the UK last year. Valued at £11.9m, it is now ranked as the fourth biggest e-cig brand across the total retail market.
Roberts says cartridges, which make up around 50% of the category, are performing well for Blu with classic tobacco and menthol the best sellers. "E-liquids are in big demand now, with more people going straight into liquids. Blu's top sellers again are classic tobacco and menthol, however, fruit flavours including 'bluberry', cherry and strawberry mint are fast growing."
Blu UK's range also includes the eCigs Pro Kit, which is a larger 'tank' style e-cigarette, offering 'safe charge' technology and extended battery life for regular vapers.
Paul Hunt, managing director at V2 Cigs UK, reports that his brand is performing very well.
"The number of customers and turnover has grown substantially over the past 12 months as we have moved towards vaporisers and open systems. V2 EX cartridges, with their viewing window and ceramic heating element, have also proved very popular. We feel the reason behind this is that as the category matures, it becomes apparent who the leaders are. Taste and satisfaction are crucial for smokers and V2 electronic cigarettes, vaporisers and Platinum e-liquids deliver this."
He says the V2 Express starter kit is a popular choice as it is the quickest and easiest way to try out e-cigs. The kit includes one standard V2Cigs automatic white battery, one express charger and one cartridge, with a choice of menthol or red tobacco flavour.
He adds that currently there are more than one million online V2 Cigs customers worldwide and tens of thousands in the UK, many of whom, he says, are searching for a local retailer. "Our motto 'Taste. Trust. Technology.' is reflected in the quality of all equipment, e-liquids and accessories, which are designed and tested to the highest standards in the US. V2 Cigs is one of the few e-cigarette companies operating in the UK that runs its own manufacturing process and controls the supply chain from start to finish."
Hunt adds that V2 Cigs offers a selection of display solutions. "Our counter top display units are free to retailers who stock V2 Cigs products. They are the ideal way to attract buyers to try e-cigarettes for the first time."
Top tips for e-cigs sales
Visibility is key ensure e-cigs are located prominently in store, preferably on the counter top in a bespoke unit.
It's vital that the e-cigs merchandising unit remains well stocked to help guarantee repeat visits from local customers and maximise the profit potential of the category.
Ensure staff are well trained on how to advise customers about the e-cig category and range stocked in store.
Make time to understand what's happening in the e-cig category and speak to your JTI sales rep for advice.
The vaping trend is driven by vapers looking to take advantage of the affordability of rechargeable e-cigs. Rechargeables therefore represent a significant profit opportunity for retailers, with over half of users buying a refill at least once a week (TNS Omnibus data).
Vapers tend to switch between a wide variety of e-cig flavours. Maintain availability and a range of all flavours to maximise profits from the category.
The category continues to evolve, so support new product launches, pack innovations and SKUs in store as these have been developed in line with trends in the marketplace to help maximise profit opportunities.
selling e-cigs The DSl way
DSL can provide forecourt stores with the MultiVape and MultiCig brands. DSL director Roy Landa says the most popular products are the MultiVape starter kit, which includes either a sample of menthol or tobacco leaf liquid.
He reckons its popularity comes from the fact that is uses the Aspire cartomiser, which has been "expertly crafted to deliver the best vaping experience". Dual coils work together to deliver twice the vapour, and the mouthpiece has been designed for maximum comfort. In addition, Landa points to the use of high quality liquids, which are manufactured here in the UK.
"Vapers, similar to smokers, eventually settle on a brand of liquids they prefer and tend to stick with these. Our most popular selling liquids are menthol mist and tobacco leaf in both 12mg and 18mg, and over the past four years we have built up a loyal following of repeat customers."
A big plus point for forecourt retailers is the fact that DSL advertises its e-cigs on top of the fuel pumps (see above) so people can immediately see that the products are sold inside. And inside, the firm can provide a very neat display unit for placing at the till point, plus it has a useful Q&A guide to help retailers fully understand the products.
And probably an even bigger plus point is that DSL provides its products on a sale or return basis to retailers and offers a 'no quibble' guarantee to the end user.
"We have a telesales operation where stockists are phoned on a weekly basis and when products are ordered before 2.30pm, we offer a next day delivery service," says Landa.
HKS is one of DSL's very satisfied customers. The company's head of business development, Shane Thakrar, says: "DSL is our main supplier for e-cigs, e-liquids and tanks. They have a good selection. It's a growing category so you really need to stock these products.
"The best thing is that DSL takes care of the category for us, They provide the products and the display stands. I don't mind giving over valuable till space to e-cigs because if they're not on the counter they won't sell. They offer strong margins but they do need to be promoted."
republic technologies' Liquid solution
Republic Technologies (UK) is advising forecourt retailers to maximise the opportunity for e-liquids in their stores. The company, which offers e-liquid under the OCB brand (a name famous for rolling papers) is encouraging retailers to make the most of those well-known and trusted brands that vaping enthusiasts are looking for.
Gavin Anderson, general sales manager for Republic Technologies (UK), says: "The number of e-cigarette users has doubled in the past two years, so when it comes to e-cigarettes and e-liquids it is important for forecourt retailers to offer established trustworthy brands that shoppers want.
"There is still a question mark over the quality and provenance of many e-liquids currently available in the UK. OCB e-liquids deliver not only on price, but also in terms of ingredients, strict manufacturing guidelines and choice on offer."
E-liquids are widely recognised as the most buoyant area of the e-cigs market with approximately 66% of current users preferring to use a refillable device.Anderson continues: "When it comes to e-cigarettes, must stock products include starter kits and rechargeable products, which have proven more popular over and above disposables due to their longevity, while tobacco and menthol rank among the best-selling e-liquid flavours."
It is also estimated that around 88% of e-cigs sold in the UK contain nicotine (ASH data). The OCB range of e-liquids caters for both nicotine and nicotine-free consumer requirements. There are five flavours (American tobacco, Virginia tobacco, fresh mint/menthol, red berries and coffee) in four nicotine strengths 0mg, 6mg, 11mg and 16mg/ml. The e-liquids are manufactured in Republic Technologies' production facility in the South of France. They are complemented by a range of accessories, including starter kits, clearomizers and chargers.