Convenience retailers have responded positively to the news that e-cigarettes could be available via NHS prescription for people looking to quit smoking.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has published updated guidance around e-cigarettes and is inviting suppliers and manufactures to submit devices for approval.
Avtar Sidhu, of St. John’s Budgens in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, praised the move as helping to give the category legitimacy. “It raises the profile of the products,” he said. “There has been loads of conflicting and negative messaging over the years regarding vapes, so it’s great that the UK government has come out with some positive rhetoric.
“It gives consumers confidence, raises its [vaping category] profile, and helps turn it into a mainstream product. Tobacco is still huge in comparison to e-cigarettes, and while vaping has been chipping away at it, I think this is a catalyst for it to really flourish and grow,” he explained.
Sidhu added the move comes at the right time with the price of cigarettes rising following the latest budget and hopes it will lead to tighter tobacco and e-cigarette regulations.
“The fact it’s going through the NHS is good for the whole category and industry. It’s morally the right thing to do. We’ve been trying to guide people off cigarettes and this legitimises it. A lot of people who have thought about it will turn to it. This will work in the favour of the retailers who view this as an opportunity,” said Sidhu.
Meanwhile, Aman Uppal, of One Stop Mount Nod in Coventry, said there are a lot of people who are curious about the category, and this is a stamp of approval from the NHS and government. “Off the back of it, there may be people who want to go down to their local store and find out more, that’s the way retailers can benefit.”
Uppal added the move may lead to a shift towards premiumisation in the category, as people who begin vaping via a prescription look to diversify their vaping experiences as they progress in their journey.
Likewise, Amish Shingadia, of Londis Caterways & Post Office in Horsham, also agreed people are going to switch to vaping with the prices of cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco having increased following the latest budget.
However, he added with the NHS prescriptions, whether it converts smokers to vapes in the long-term is still to be seen. “It depends how many e-cigarettes they give out because vaping can be costly. If it’s a six-month prescription, people might be converted to vaping in the long-term.
“Vaping is very ‘legitimised’ to youngsters, so this move will help converting those in this demographic who smoke – I’m pro this move in that regard.”
John Dunne, the director general of the UKIVA also welcomed the move. In a statment shared with betterRetailing, he said the government deserves praise for taking this decision to look more closely at the use of vaping when it comes to smoking cessation, and for taking an “evidence-based, science-led approach rather than the nonsensical anti-vaping, anti-harm reduction stance of some countries”.
“This announcement by the Department for Health is just the latest in a long line of breakthroughs for those of us who for years have advocated vaping as the best and most effective method for people looking to quit smoking.
“What’s more, Public Health England [now replaced by the UK Health Security Agency and Office for Health Improvement and Disparities], has declared that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking and Cancer Research UK has also backed e-cigarettes as one of the best methods to get smokers to quit combustible tobacco.
“So, with this in mind, it should come as no surprise that the Department for Health has made this announcement today as the evidence and arguments for using vaping as a way of helping smokers to quit is nothing short of overwhelming,” he added.
There are currently 3.6 million e-cigarettes users in the UK, according to charity Action on Smoking and Health, up from 3.2 million last year.