This post provides an update on disposable electronic nicotine devices in Canada, identifies some important information gaps in Canada and notes key developments with respect to these single-use plastic products in other countries.
Canada's largest tobacco companies are intensifying their sales of disposable e-cigs.Last month, the Canadian subsidiary of British American Tobacco (Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd), introduced a third version of its disposable vaping device, VUSE GO. The VUSE GO EDITION 5000 delivers five times as much nicotine as the original 500-puff VUSE GO and more than three times as much as the 1,500 puff VUSE GO XL.
Unlike cigarettes, vaping products quickly change
In the 5 years since vaping products were legalized in Canada, BAT has revamped its product offerings three times. In the summer of 2018, the company sold two devices: the refillable eTank system and liquids and the eStick cig-a-like. Within a few months, facing stiff competition from JUUL, it introduced the ePEN pod system. About 16 months later, in January 2020, BAT introduced the ePOD system, which was designed to deliver salt nicotine. By the following year, only the ePOD remained for sale.
One other global tobacco company also sells vaping products in Canada. The Canadian subsidiary of Philip Morris International (Rothmans, Benson and Hedges) sells a pod system (VEEV ONE) and a disposable vape (VEEV NOW). The disposable has been rebranded since it was introduced last summer as VEEBA. Vaping products have been introduced and then withdrawn by other multinational tobacco companies: Imperial Brands sold BLU from December 2018 until July 2020, and Japan Tobacco International sold Logic from early 2019 until the summer of 2021.
This rapid market change contributes to the difficulties in linking specific product designs when monitoring how e-cigarettes contribute to people stopping smoking or how they recruit new nicotine users.
Disposables are being used to drive down the cost of vaping.
The VUSE GO 5000 reduces the cost of using VUSE liquids to less than one-fifth of the price charged a year ago - which was before the federal excise tax of $1 per 2 ml was applied.
Including tax, VUSE GO 5000 sells for $25.99, which makes the cost per puff just over one-half cent ($0.0052). By comparison, the cost-per-puff of the $19.99 Vuse GO XL is $0.013, for the $9.99 Vuse GO is $0.02 and for an $8 ePOD, which delivers 250 puffs, the price is $0.032.
PMI/Rothmans Benson and Hedges is also making vaping increasingly affordable -- in spite of the federal excise tax. A starter kit including pod device and package of 2 pods (providing 800 puffs) now sells for $11.99 ($0.015 per puff); Individual disposable products (500 puffs) sell for $11 ($0.022 per puff), reduced to $6 each if bought in quantities ($0.012 per puff).
The companies' use of volume discounts should raise red flags among regulators, as they facilitate sales to youth. PMI/RBH, for example, discounts each disposable unit by $5 (45%) when it is sold in bundles of 9 or 11 units. This provides a financial incentive for "legal age" customers to resell to underage users through social sources.
Regulators might also want to consider whether the company is selling some products below the price of manufacture and distribution (in order to recruit long term customers). Once the $2 excise tax is removed from the multi-pack price of VEEV NOW, this disposable device is marketed at $4 per unit.
Disposables are expanding a vaping market that was otherwise flat.
BAT is growing revenues from vaping only because of 's revenues from pod-systems is flat -- but for disposables is growing
In October 2022, BAT pivoted to the disposable market in Canada and its other "top markets". The results of that initiative were reported to investors earlier this spring. In the 5 countries that "represent 88% of vapour industry revenue" (US, Canada, UK, France, Germany) the revenues from pod systems were essentially flat
This spring, BAT reported to investors that disposables have not replaced the pod-based systems, but are instead expanding e-cigarette revenues in the "top 5 markets". According to the company, sales in the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany represent 88% of the world's vaping industry revenue. BAT reports that since 2020, revenue growth for pod systems has been essentially flat (increasing by 4%), but that the sale of disposables has driven the sector to a 30% overall increase.
Similar information for the Canadian market was reported to Ontario courts earlier this year, with "[e-cigarette] revenues growing by over 30 percent, which was driven mainly by the launch of a disposable-device."
Disposable e-cigarettes appear to accelerate youth vaping
The impact of disposables on Canadian youth is not yet known
While disposable cigarettes made by STLTH and others have been on the market for a couple of years, it was only a year ago that tobacco companies entered this market and began using their convenience store distribution system to expand availability. The impact of this is not yet known: a national survey on vaping behaviour was conducted over the Christmas-New year period in 2022-2023, but the results will not be released until later this summer. The ITC project will be gathering data later this summer.
The challenge of associating product design to youth vaping is made more challenging because Canada's public health surveillance system does not currently collect information on the brands or types of products used by children or adults. For example, the questionnaires for the Canadian Tobacco and Nicotine Survey, and Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey do not ask about the brands, device designs, nicotine levels or price, although information on these issues is sometimes gathered in the consumer research commissioned by the federal government.. The ITC project does, however, collect this information.
The disposable vape market is proving difficult to control
Governments which have clamped down on the e-cigarette marketing are having difficulties stopping the sale of products which they have banned.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has since not authorized any single-use vape for sale, and has ordered all unauthorized products off the market. Nonetheless, companies collecting data from retail store sales recently reported that there are thousands of disposable products still available.
Denmark banned flavoured vaping products in April 2022, but has since discovered that young people still have access to flavoured and higher-nicotine single use products. Some of these enforcement challenges were reported to Danish legislators, and the minister is considering further regulatory changes.
This year, information was released showing that officials in the United Kingdom have seized more than a million disposable vaping devices that contained illegally-high levels of nicotine.
Illegally imported Chinese vapes may also be illegally exported from China.
Last year the Chinese government imposed strict controls on the e-cigarette industry. The new measures included a ban on flavourings and requirements that all domestic wholesales be managed through a centralized system. The new Chinese law exempts exports from these requirements, but nonetheless requires exports comply with the laws of the importing country. On this basis, it seems that the high-nicotine exports to the U.K., for example, are a breach of both UK and Chinese health regulations.
The global tobacco treaty (the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) does require countries to cooperate in implementing the public health measures outlined in the treaty. The treaty was drafted before the era of electronic cigarettes, and countries are divided on whether or how public approaches to e-cigarettes fit with the convention. E-cigarettes are expected to be discussed at the November 2023 Conference of the Parties, although the importance of international cooperation in controlling imports and exports does not appear to be on the agenda.