In terms of switching tobacco smokers off the weed it seems that the role of chemists with their pharmacotherapy and counselling is overlooked. That, at any rate, is the view of Mr Darush Attar-Zadeh, a pharmacist based in the community and primary care, specialising in treating tobacco dependency. Research shows that a person is more likely to quit smoking with NHS support and pharmacotherapies, including nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), Varenicline, Bupropion and e-cigs/vapes. Research also shows that pharmacotherapy and counselling through pharmacies can increase smoking cessation success and that one is four times more likely to quit with expert support.

Given, however, that NHS funding is declining, pharmacists play a vital role in being able to offer readily accessible patient education and guidance. Pharmacists can create a point of difference by tailoring advice to the individual and giving them the best choice for quitting smoking for good, no matter whether they are using NRT or vapes/e-cigs or a combination of these aids. “Establishing the best formats and plan to suit quitters’ habits and triggers is key,” says Mr Attar-Zadeh.

E-cigarettes may still be under on-going review because we don’t fully know the long-term health implications on their consumption but based on current evidence they pose just 5% of the health risks versus smoking tobacco and widely viewed as a ‘positive option’ but not a magic bullet solution.

The Tobacco Product Directive, 2014, banned certain ingredients, including certain colourings, caffeine and taurine from vapes. Some flavours have also been removed from the vaping list

After undergoing numerous regulatory and clinical testing to become licensed products, NRT is currently considered a safe option and less harmful overall. They contain varying strengths of nicotine and pharmacists are in a great position to advise on strength-dosing treatment, duration and technique. The patches, for which Niquitin are famed, are a long-acting product and can release nicotine for up to 24 hours. The lozenge gums, micro tabs, inhalator and sprays are shorter-acting products.

NRT, vapes, e-cigs all offer a cleaner therapeutic form of nicotine versus tobacco and so when compared with smoking tobacco the health risks are negligible and worth taking either alone or as a conjunction to NRT when considered responsibly and logically.

Currently the UK vaping market is worth £1.4bn and growing fast, with one estimate saying it will pass £4bn by 2021, quickly closing the gap with tobacco smoking. But retailers seem to be missing a trick because only a minority of vape sales stem from traditional retail outlets, suggesting a real growth opportunity for retailers prepared to invest in upskilling their staff and educating them on the category, suggests Duncan Cunningham, UK corporate affairs director at Imperial Tobacco and Blu.

There are many different devices and liquids available so a shopper may be intimidated by the sheer breadth of the vape offering. These consumers, therefore, need knowledgeable advice on what to buy and reassurance on product quality.

The pending ban on menthol tobacco (May 2020) also puts the onus on product suppliers to engage in discussions now because experience tells us that consumer awareness around tobacco legislation tends to be relatively low until it hits the shelves and they can’t buy products they want, advises Mr Cunningham, so talking to consumers ahead of the ban is important. By engaging the consumers early, retailers can help dualists and new entrants to the category understand what is coming down the line and offer advice on what alternatives are available to them.

A Key trend worth mentioning on e-liquids, which account for 34% of all vaping sales, is flavour. With the upcoming ban on menthol cigarettes, this represents a significant opportunity for retailers as consumers continue to seek similar flavours from other alternatives. Retailers, therefore, should stock up on fruity blends like Eucalyptus Lemon which combines sour lemon with cool mint tones of strawberry mint.

Despite the erroneous UK media reports, says Ben Mison, head of sales at Vaporiz, vaping still remains a great option for those people looking to switch from smoking. “What we have increasingly seen is vapers having more than one device, often a sub-ohm cloud-forming device for leisure time and a smaller, more discrete product for daily use. We have also seen a rise in the popularity of the POD system, and recently we launched our first refillable POD kit — the VPOD.” While knowledge about the category is essential for retailers, it also helps with impulse buying if they have an eye-catching display away from the traditional tobacco gantries or in the tobacco room.

Salim Patel, director of iBreathe, reports positive sales while working flat out on their new brand positioning. Its pocket kit provides the consumer with entry level single vaping. “PFC and C-stores must offer a convenience to vapers and not consider themselves as vape stores. You don’t need a large range to build sales, just the right range with some great POS,” he avers.

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