How times change. In the 1930s-1950s, cigarettes were advertised as being good for you. An ad for Camel cigarettes back then advised people to ‘Give your throat a vacation’ by smoking a ‘fresh cigarette’. It went on to say: “Try them for just one day. Then leave them – if you can.” And we all know what happened next – basically millions of people couldn’t leave them. However, since then, education and legislation has led to the levels of smoking coming way, way down.
According to ONS stats, in 2022 around 12.9% of people aged 18 years and over in the UK were smokers, equating to around 6.4 million people. The data revealed that men were more likely to smoke than women, with 14.6% of men and 11.2% of women reporting that they were current smokers in 2022. And smoking prevalence was highest among those aged 25 to 34 years, and lowest among those aged 65 years and over.
Today there is, of course, vaping too. And ONS figures for 2022 show that around 8.7% of those aged 16 and over in Great Britain were daily or occasional users of vapes. In 2021, less than 1% of 11-15 year olds reported regular smoking. However,there was an increase in the number of children and young people reporting use of vapes, rising from 6% in 2014 to 15% in 2021.
More legislation is on the horizon as the government seeks to get smoking numbers down even further and also prevent younger adults to take up smoking in the first place.
The new ‘Tobacco and Vapes Bill’, announced in the King’s Speech last year would introduce a new law to stop children from ever being able to legally buy cigarettes in England. It will also introduce further regulations to prevent the sale and promotion of vapes to children.
Under the proposed ban, anyone who was born on or after January 1, 2009, will never legally be allowed to buy tobacco products as the legislation would raise the legal age for buying cigarettes in England by one year every year, until it applies to the whole population.
The ban is similar to one that was announced for New Zealand, which was set to come into effect in July, but a new government in the country scrapped the legislation.
Here, smoking will not become illegal and the phased aged approach means anyone who can legally buy cigarettes today will still be allowed to do so. However, it has been reported that older people may have to carry ID if they want to buy cigarettes in the future.
In the UK, the public appear to be backing the ban with a YouGov poll for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) revealing that 67% of people in England support the plans.
The government recently closed a consultation on smoking and vaping called Creating a Smokefree Generation and Tackling Youth Vaping, which attracted some 25,000 responses.
Proposals that were consulted on included:
• making it an offence for anyone born on or after January 1, 2009, to be sold tobacco products;
• restricting the flavours and descriptions of vapes so that vape flavours are no longer targeted at children;
• regulating pos displays so that vapes are kept out of sight of children and away from products that appeal to them, such as sweets;
• regulating vape packaging and product presentation, ensuring that neither the device nor its packaging is targeted atchildren;
• considering restricting the sale of disposable vapes, which are linked to the rise in vaping in children. These products are also harmful to the environment;
• exploring further restrictions for non-nicotine vapes and other nicotine consumer products such as nicotine pouches;
• exploring whether increasing the price of vapes will reduce the number of young people using them;
• introducing new powers for local authorities to issue on-the-spot fines to enforce proof of age legislation for tobacco products and vapes.
Legislation is needed
Goran Raven, who owns Raven’s Budgens Abridge in Essex, says sales of vaping products are huge in his shop, easily outselling tobacco. “Lost Mary and Elf Bar are our biggest sellers. We used to stock all sorts of weird and wonderful brands but our consumers are quite brand loyal and when they are not, they are after distinctive flavours.”
As an ex-smoker, Goran says he is ‘for’ the proposed smoking ban but he says it’s a tricky one as the information is out there and people really should be able to make their own minds up.
“From a retailer point of view, legislation for vapes is needed because it has been a bit like the Wild West at times, especially with recalls due to crazy nicotine levels. We need some legislation but not too much.”
Goran adds that it’s very noticeable that those buying vapes are much younger than his tobacco customers. He says the sweet flavours of many vapes definitely appeal to a younger palate.
He has a Navarra tobacco gantry, which he describes as a ‘godsend’. “It links to the till and the products are only dispensed once they have been paid for. Shrinkage is a thing of the past.
“Our vapes are still out front on the shopfloor and we have seen a huge explosion in sales because of that, especially when we do a ‘two for £10’ offer.”
However, Goran is ready for any new legislation regarding the sale of vapes: “When the new legislation comes in, they won’t be on the shopfloor any more, they will be in Navarra’s new tobacco and vaping gantry.”
He explains: “I spoke with Hugh Walker from Navarra at last year’s Convenience Retail Show. He was there with the manufacturer of his gantries and we chatted about what a mixed (tobacco and vape) unit would need to look like. I said if you build one, I will have one. Since then I have seen his plans and will definitely be buying one.
“The good thing about the new unit is that the consumer is still able to see the products and that is really important. We need to keep innovating to keep customers coming back.
“Our smoking customers are really important to us as they are big spenders. And they love the Navarra system. It’s the novelty factor of the product dropping out of the bottom, a bit like a fruit machine that they like.”
Protect the children
Imperial Brands is calling for an outright ban on vapes being deliberately marketed at young people.
Oliver Kutz, general manager UK and Ireland at Imperial Brands, says: “As the owner of the blu vape brand we share the government’s concerns about the rise in youth vaping and call for a reform of vape flavour names and a ban on packaging that deliberately appeals to under 18s.
“Imperial Brands has long been committed to working with policymakers to ensure that vaping products are solely used by existing adult smokers and adult nicotine users. We share the view of the UK’s chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty that “we should continue to encourage smokers to swap to vaping as the lesser risk, while preventing the marketing and sale of vapes to children”.”
Vaping has played a key role in reducing UK smoking levels to the lowest on record, with Public Health England reporting that e-cigs are around 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes. However, Kutz says that if a ban on disposable vapes is introduced – which more than half of adult vapers use – it could drive some vapers to return to cigarette smoking.
Instead of an outright ban on disposable devices, the company believes that there should be more robust enforcement of existing legislation and greater penalties for breaches of age of sale legislation.
In particular, Imperial wants to see the introduction of Fixed Penalty Notices for those selling to under 18s, and a vape retailer licensing scheme to improve compliance across the retail environment.
“The threat of their licence being removed if they’re found to be selling to under 18s would provide a strong deterrent for irresponsible retailers,” says Kutz.
He adds that nothing demonstrates the need for effective regulation and stronger deterrents more than the rise in the number of illicit vapes appearing on UK high streets. Trading Standards seized over 2.5 million illicit vapes in the last three years alone.
Furthermore, the company believes the introduction of an excise duty on all vaping products would help fund enforcement efforts.
While Imperial welcomes government intervention into youth vaping, it disagrees with the proposed generational ban on tobacco, as it believes it is unworkable and unenforceable.
With the government in New Zealand having announced plans to repeal its own attempt at a generational ban, Imperial argues there is now no international precedent for the ban.
“The prohibition of tobacco products won’t deter tobacco users from smoking, rather it will increase the already flourishing illicit trade – as was the case in South Africa when the government outlawed the sale of tobacco products during Covid – and lead to a decline in government revenues. Last year, receipts from tobacco duty contributed £10bn to the public purse.”
Kutz says verifying age to meet the new restrictions will be a real burden for retailers. “The time will come when a shopkeeper would need to take a judgement about asking people in their 30s to verify their age and asking for photographic ID each time. Many people do not routinely carry photographic ID and checking for ID at every sale will be a hassle and slow down service in their shops. And it could lead to increased abuse from customers, which is on the rise in any case, especially as we know that age-related questioning in shops is the main trigger point for staff being abused.”
For now, Kutz says it is business as usual for retailers who are allowed to sell tobacco products to adult smokers, as the proposed new legislation will not come into force until 2027.
“Imperial Brands wants to support retailers and help them ensure they only sell products to adults who are legally allowed to smoke. We would recommend retailers doing things like checking up on the ‘No ID No Sale’ guidelines. No retailer wants to have a Restricted Sale Of Premises Order imposed on them limiting the products they can sell with the resulting effect on their business revenue.
“The guidelines offer lots of advice for staff training and tips on the use of a Refusals Register. In addition, the free retail packs offered contain lots of pos merchandise like Statutory Tobacco Notices and Age-Related posters along with ‘Scan Me’ and ‘No ID No Sale!’ badges and shelf wobblers.”
Get your glo on
Despite uncertainty about smoking and vaping legislation, there are still new products coming to market. In the reduced-risk product sector, BAT has launched a new version of its heating device from its glo range. glo is an alternative to smoking that doesn’t involve burning and therefore produces fewer and lower levels of toxicants than conventional cigarettes.
The new glo Hyper Pro device is lightweight, fits easily in your pocket and one charge takes approximately 90 minutes and lasts all day as once charged consumers can expect to use the device for 20 sessions in total. The device also features a new EasyView screen which displays its performance settings and information.
Kingsley Wheaton, chief strategy and growth officer at BAT, says: “We’re proud that today, over 8.8m adult consumers now use glo. This latest version is our most advanced yet, with a much improved user experience. We continue to listen to consumers and enhance our products so that they find glo a satisfying alternative to continuing to smoke. Ultimately, BAT aims to support smokers to switch to these reduced risk products in order to deliver benefits for consumers, society and our stakeholders.”
The wider glo range is sold today in over 20 markets around the world, including the UK. The glo Hyper Pro device has been launched in Japan, Italy and Poland, with further global market roll outs planned during 2024.
Last month, Imperial announced the return of two of its limited-edition ranges to allow retailers to cater for the rising demand for value. The two formats, launched exclusively for the independent channel, include Imperial’s 21s packs and its 32g pouches of rolling tobacco.
The relaunched line of 21s packs comprises Richmond 21s at an rrp of £12.25 and L&B Blue 21s, rrp of £12.50. Alongside the 21s, are 32g packs of Riverstone rolling tobacco, rrp £18.50.
Tom Gully, head of consumer marketing UK and Ireland at Imperial Tobacco, comments: “Shopper demand for value is the biggest trend shaping sales within the tobacco category. With the cost-of-living crisis continuing to impact household spending, we don’t expect this to change any time soon. By bringing back our range of independent exclusives, we are equipping retailers with bigger formats for some of our best-loved brands that will help them to cater to this rising demand for value. Both formats are available for a limited time only, so we’d recommend retailers take advantage of these added value lines while stocks last.”
Imperial Tobacco has also launched a new Classic Combi variant for its Rizla brand. The new launch, featuring unbleached papers and tips, allows retailers to capitalise on the growing consumer demand for natural rolling papers with the added benefit of papers and tips in one convenient pack.
Jamie Burns-Smith, category manager at Imperial Tobacco comments: “Within the papers category, we’ve seen a shift in favour of combi papers thanks to the added convenience they offer with both tips and papers in one pack, resulting in Rizla Combi Silver now accounting for 23% market share (epos data).
“Our latest launch of Rizla Classic King Size Combi taps into this trend and responds to the rising demand among smokers for more natural papers, filling a gap in the market with its new unbleached papers and tips in the same pack. With volume sales of combi formats expected to exceed those of popular standard format kingsize papers thanks to the great convenience they offer, we’d highly recommend stocking up on Rizla Classic KS Combi to tap into this trend and grow sales.”
The launch of Rizla Classic KS Combi will be supported by brand activations at over 20 festivals and events in 2024, alongside consumer-facing pos to help drive awareness and sales of the new range.
Maximising cigar sales
While obviously not matching the sales volumes of cigarettes or RYO tobacco, cigars are an important part of the tobacco category for retailers because they drive footfall in-store and particularly as they are a driver of profit in tills.
Nataly Scarpetta, marketing manager at Scandinavian Tobacco Group UK (STG UK), says: “Most adult smokers are brand loyal and usually stick to their preferred cigar brand, so it’s more important to stock the right range rather than a big range. We always advise retailers to consider stocking the top two-to-three brands in each of the four cigar segments, as the top 10 biggest sellers overall account for well over 90% of total sales. And when it comes to pricing, we recommend retailers follow manufacturers’ guidance, as our recommendations afford value for the consumer, while giving exceptional margins for retailers. For example, our Moments Blue brand offers up to 18% margin when sold at its rrp and there are not many brands in the tobacco category that can offer that.”
The latest IRI Marketplace data (w/e 29-10-2023) reveals that the total UK cigar category is worth just over £292m in annual sales, which is a small increase in value of 1.9% versus the same time in 2022. “This positive performance is mainly down to cigarillo sales, which account for the largest of the four segments in the cigar category, and the only one currently in growth,” explains Scarpetta. “Cigarillos are now worth just under £110m in annual sales and are responsible for very nearly half of total cigar volume sales. Our Signature Action brand is currently the fastest growing cigarillo, experiencing sales growth of 44% versus the same time last year.”
STG has just announced a redesign for its Signature range, which appears on packs of Signature Blue, Original and Red Filter.
Last year the Signature brand celebrated its 60th anniversary with the launch of limited-edition packs and the permanent return of tins for packs of 20s. Now, Signature packs, have been upgraded to full colour on all sides. The overall design has been simplified and more focus has been added to the leaf icon to emphasise the unique nature of the product.