A funny thing has happened to the vaping industry over the past few years. When you compare vaping in the United States vs. vaping in the United Kingdom, it’s obvious that the industry has evolved in completely divergent ways. You can follow those evolutionary paths, and you’ll find that they begin with two factors.
- Until recently, the JUUL e-cigarette – a massive success in the United States, claiming more than 70 percent of the traditional e-cigarette market – was not available in the United Kingdom.
- In the United Kingdom, the Tobacco Products Directive limits all e-liquid to a maximum nicotine strength of 20 mg. For several years after its debut, the JUUL e-cigarette was only available in one nicotine strength: a whopping 59 mg.
In this article, we’ll examine the divergent evolutionary paths of the U.S. and U.K. vaping industries and learn more about how legal regulations and product availability have affected consumers’ preferences. When people buy e-cigs in the UK, it turns out that their choices are often very different from the choices that new U.S. vapers make.
JUUL Is King in the United States
In the United States, JUUL has enjoyed a massive competitive advantage over most other e-cigarette brands. JUUL launched with the necessary financial backing for widespread online promotion, and it delivered about as much nicotine per puff as a tobacco cigarette. With their typical nicotine strengths topping out at around 18 mg, other e-cigarette brands simply couldn’t compete. JUUL steamrolled the vaping industry, and other e-cigarette brands folded left and right. The company’s success culminated in a major investment from tobacco industry leader Philip Morris.
Although the JUUL was primarily marketed to new vapers, its success also ended up affecting the preferences of long-term vapers. Bottled nicotine salt e-liquids became popular, and other vaping product manufacturers began to release pod-based vaping systems of their own. Tired of coil gunk and the need for constant coil replacements, many existing vapers decided to switch to the smaller pod systems and save some money.
In the United States, cigalikes aren’t as common as they once were. Although many convenience stories, pharmacies and gas stations do still stock cigalikes, they also stock the JUUL and its refill pods. The JUUL displays are often bigger and flashier, and the JUUL system now also has a level of brand recognition that other e-cigarette brands lack. The result, as mentioned above, is that JUUL now claims more than 70 percent of all e-cigarette sales in traditional retail outlets.
Among those who haven’t switched to smaller pod systems, the success of the JUUL hasn’t changed buying preferences much. Existing vapers who prefer the low-nicotine sub-ohm vaping experience continue to use the e-liquids and vaping hardware that they have always used.
Cigalikes and Small Vape Pens Remain Relevant in the United Kingdom
Until recently, the JUUL e-cigarette was not available in the United Kingdom. Following a $12.8 billion investment from Philip Morris, JUUL has begun its worldwide expansion – but in the United Kingdom and Europe, the company must play by the same rules as everyone else. JUUL’s highest available nicotine strength in the U.K. is just 18 mg. That’s the same top nicotine strength that you can get with a cigalike in the U.K., so JUUL must compete with other e-cigarette brands on equal footing. So far, the result is that JUUL hasn’t been the smashing success in the U.K. that it has been in other regions. In the U.K., smokers see the familiar, friendly shape of the cigalike, and they choose that – or slightly larger vape pens – over the strange USB stick-shaped JUUL.
It’s interesting to note that the TPD hasn’t just limited the success of the JUUL brand in the United Kingdom. The TPD may also have produced a second side effect that no one anticipated: underage vaping isn’t nearly as prevalent in the U.K. as it is in the United States. In the U.S., there are now millions of underage vapers. The vast majority of those children use the JUUL product, and some – such as researchers from Stanford – have alleged that JUUL’s success among children is the result of social media marketing explicitly targeted to youth. All eyes are now on JUUL, and the company won’t be able to use the same marketing techniques in the United Kingdom that it used in the United States.
Maybe the U.S. Should Have Stuck With Cigalikes
Today, the U.S. vaping industry is in a state of crisis brought on, at least in part, by the success of the JUUL e-cigarette. At the time of this article’s writing, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform is holding hearings with high-level executives from JUUL. The purpose of the hearings is to examine JUUL’s role in the unprecedented rise in youth tobacco use in the United States. A federal court has ordered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin regulating the vaping industry immediately, and there is a strong possibility that almost all vaping products will disappear from U.S. shelves in nine months.
Before JUUL exploded in popularity, there was no youth vaping epidemic, and manufacturers of vaping products sold in the United States had until August 8, 2022 to gain FDA approval and remain on the market. Now, they have just nine months. The process of compiling a tobacco product application for the FDA is incredibly costly and time consuming. Most companies in the vaping industry lack the resources to go through that process and will simply fold in nine months.
Maybe we should have stuck with cigalikes.
As much publicity as JUUL receives for their alleged bad behavior, it also must be said that the U.S. government probably could have prevented this situation by putting some early common-sense regulations in place when the vaping industry was still new. The Tobacco Products Directive may inconvenience some vapers in the U.K. and Europe, but it also limits the addictive potential of vaping products and makes them less interesting to children. In 2020, there will certainly still be a vaping industry in Europe. It’s entirely possible that the United States will have almost no vaping industry at all.