UK Pharmacies See New Opportunity with ECigs

Well known chemist, Boots, which has a network of stores at prominent locations will soon start marketing e-cigarettes manufactured by Fontem Ventures, a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco. This is in keeping with the efforts of leading tobacco companies to enhance their presence in this rapidly growing niche, with global sales aggregating $3bn each year. Imperial Tobacco with an annual turnover of £30bn from tobacco products is satisfied with the deal.

The news came close on the heels of the launch of British American Tobacco’s advertising campaign for its electronic cigarette brand, Vype. The campaign on television marks the return of tobacco companies to advertising of products on television after a gap of over twenty years.

From Monday, e-cigarette users will be able to buy Imperial’s offering, Puritane, from Boots pharmacies, after the chemist reached an agreement with the world’s fourth-largest manufacturer of tobacco products.

Boots, through its spokesman revealed that the move was made in response to the feedback received from customers indicating that they were looking out for a substitute for tobacco cigarettes.

Though many consider electronic cigarettes to be a healthier alternative and have welcomed the product, opinion is divided over the entry of big tobacco in this market segment. People are wary of the real intentions of the big players in the tobacco markets and are unsure if they would really be committed to marketing products which could lead people to give up smoking.

University of Bath’s professor Anna Gilmore states that people worried that tobacco companies, which have captured a sizable share in the market for e-cigarettes, would not be willing to sacrifice the extremely remunerative cigarette business by encouraging smokers to take to e-cigarettes as an alternative.

In UK, by 2016, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency will begin regulating e-cigarettes as medicines. This has resulted in an unlikely situation where leading tobacco companies will also have medicinal products within their product portfolio.

Boots will not be the sole chemist to sell electronic cigarettes manufactured by a tobacco major. Lloyds Pharmacy has already tied up with BAT as one of the company’s national suppliers of Vype, its e-cigarette. Other independent chemists have also begun selling e-cigarettes while others like the Co-operative Pharmacy which does not presently sell the smokeless product, are considering a change in its stance.

ASH, a group which is opposed to smoking, states that it encourages smokers to switch to e-cigarettes which apparently are less harmful than tobacco but are not in favour of non-smokers using these electronic devices.

Dedicated electronic cigarette manufacturers like Nicolites and E Lites control a large chunk of the e-cigarette market in UK with BAT and Imperial Tobacco launching their products much later.

Boots’ tie-up to sell electronic cigarettes followed the decision of CVS, a pharmacy chain in the US, to discontinue the sale of traditional cigarettes from October 2014. CVS’s move comes more than 50 years from the time the surgeon-general linked lung cancer to smoking tobacco.