Welcome to The Grocery Trader’s Smoking and Vaping feature. The numbers of smokers in the UK are declining steadily due to a combination of health concerns, bans on smoking in various places, clampdowns on advertising and the high duty imposed on tobacco products.

Charles-New-GreyEven so there are about 10 million adults who smoke cigarettes in Great Britain, about a sixth of the population. 22% of adult men and 17% of adult women smoke.

In the words of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, 2016 presents a significant challenge for the tobacco sector. The TMA spokesman told The Grocery Trader that the impending EU Tobacco Products Directive, which comes into effect in May, makes sweeping changes that will affect pack sizes, labeling, ingredients and brand choice of an already highly regulated and legal product.

As 80% of the UK cigarette market is sold in packs of less than 20 cigarettes, and 90% of the UK hand rolling tobacco market is sold in quantities of less than 30g, the Directive will have a significant impact on the retail trade.

The TMA says tobacco tax increased by more than 40% over the course of the last Parliament and as a result UK cigarette prices are now the highest across the EU.

The Government has committed to maintaining the tobacco duty escalator at 2% above inflation throughout this Parliament but, the TMA says, this will simply drive more smokers towards the illegal and unregulated tobacco market, which cost HM Treasury £2.1bn in 2014/15 alone.

The tobacco sector contributes around £12bn per annum to the nation’s finances. The TMA says moves to raise tobacco taxation further simply threaten this important economic contribution and undermine legitimate businesses throughout the tobacco supply chain.

Unheard of until 2005, vaping is growing in popularity in the UK, with former smokers turning to ecigs in their bid to stop smoking.

In the first official recognition that e-cigarettes are less damaging to health than smoking tobacco, Public Health England has said they are safer than smoking and could lead to the demise of traditional cigarettes. The health body concluded that, on “the best estimate so far,” e-cigarettes are about 95% less harmful than tobacco cigarettes.

While stressing that e-cigarettes are not free from risk, PHE now believes that e-cigarettes “have the potential to make a significant contribution to the endgame for tobacco.”

With the first milestone of the European Union’s Tobacco Product Directive just a few months away, leading e-cigarette brand blu™ is among those who believe this will be good news for retailers and the fast growing UK electronic cigarette category.

The regulation affects the marketing, production and sale of e-cigarettes and will impact the UK retail landscape within which they are sold.

The legislation comes in three stages with the first two stages putting the onus on the suppliers to comply. In blu’s view, e-cig stockist retailers only have to be compliant in what they sell by May 2017 so there’s no need to panic! Here are the key dates and what happens at each stage:

20th May 2016 – The introduction of advertising and promotion restrictions 20th Nov 2016 – The production of all non-compliant stock must cease. This affects size, ingredients, consistency of dose and packaging with health warnings.

20th May 2017 – The sale of noncompliant stock is no longer allowed.

Despite the new legislation, retailers will still be able to sell ecigarettes and accessories: actively display e-cigarettes and accessories, and not put them behind the counter: promote ecigarettes and accessories: advertise in consumer and retail brochures: put up posters in and around their stores: have display units for products; advertise and sell on retailer websites.

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