The EU’s rules on e-cigarettes have opened the door for independent retailers in the UK to make a mint, according to MEPs.

E-cigs have escaped the possibility of being sold exclusively in pharmacies, following the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive ruling last month, although the limit for nicotine content has been set at 20mg/ml – ruling out 30% of all e-cigarettes currently sold.

There will also be restrictions on advertising, but the UK now has until mid-2016 to implement the EU rulings into UK law.

Key EU e-cig rulings:

  • Maximum nicotine content to be set at 20mg/ml
  • E-cigs cartridge size to be capped at 2ml
  • Advertising restrictions to be put in place
  • The UK will have until mid-2016 to adopt EU law

Chris Davies, Lib Dem MEP for the North West, told Retail Express: “The main thing is that e-cigarettes will now be treated as consumer products, not as medicines, which means they can be sold over the counter alongside conventional cigarettes.”

1.3million – the number of people using e-cigs

His colleague Sir Graham Watson, Lib Dem MEP for the South West, said retailers should talk to their MP about how the UK is planning to ‘transpose’ EU law.

He said: “How the Government transposes this into UK law will have the biggest impact on retailers’ businesses.

“The number of people smoking will come down and the number of people using e-cigarettes will go up and there’s an opportunity there for retailers. It’s an area in which tobacconists can help to improve public health by suggesting their customers try them.”

There is still some level of confusion over whether individual EU member states such as the UK will be able to classify e-cigarettes as medicines, rather than consumer products.

But a Westminster source told Retail Express it will be extremely difficult for any government to impose this now because there is no legal basis for doing so.

Meanwhile big tobacco suppliers have firmly entered the e-cig market, with BAT subsidiary Nicoventures’ Vype e-cig currently the subject of a multi-million pound ad campaign. Imperial Tobacco’s subsidiary Fontem Ventures is now selling its Puritane e-cigarette in Boots stores, but the supplier has not ruled out making it available to other retailers in future.

Despite the potential of the category, some retailers are reporting a damp e-cigarette market to date They told Retail Express there is still too much confusion among consumers over which brands they want:

 

“We only sell Nicolites – it’s through the deal with the NFRN. Sales are steady – it’s mainly existing smokers switching over to e-cigs. We don’t sell them to young adults. How well electronic cigarettes do in the future will depend on what the Government decides to do – if they end up taxing them like everything else. They’ve made an impact but only a small one so far.”

-Gordon Bird, Mollors News, Barnsley

 

“We sell Nicolites, and they sold well at first but they’ve really slowed down. Lots of people tried them, but most people have gone back to smoking. We tried other brands, including E-Lites, and they sold even worse. We’ve still got one or two customers, though, so we’ll keep them for now, but it’s not a great start.”

-Anisha Shah, Village News, Knebworth, Herts

 

“Everything is down. We sell lots of brands, including NJoy, E-lite, Litejoy and GoLite, but maybe because there are so many different ones, people don’t know which to try, so they’ll give one a go, but if they don’t like it they don’t want to spend £7 on trying another. Some people prefer the liquid ones. But I think the market will continue going down.”

-Vishnu Patel, Scotts News Agency, Finchley Road, London