e-cig smoking

The rise and development of the e-cigarette or ‘vaping’ market is surely one that will be studied frequently at business schools now and in the future. The pace of its evolution from fad, through ‘head shops’ to investment by major tobacco companies, is a story that will continue to fascinate.

In the meantime I am particularly interested in the news that the BAT e-Voke brand has been approved by the UK Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory agency (MHRA) for marketing as a smoking cessation aid.

It seems to me this is a pathway paved with good intentions and unintended consequences. The NHS is an organisation facing massive difficulties as we all live longer and expect ever-more sophisticated healthcare free at the point of delivery.

The prospect that e-cigarettes might be made available on prescription would have huge implications, particularly as these products, while being recognised as safer than cigarettes, are still being assessed as to their actual effect on health.

If doctors start to treat smokers with these products, aren’t the logical consequences terrifying? If I can go to the GP and improve my health by making lifestyle changes, can I promise to stop drinking absinthe and get less risky gin on the NHS? Once this has happened, perhaps I can improve further by getting Rioja from the chemist.

Meanwhile, I am eating far too much red meat. Can I get skinless chicken breast fillets for my £8.20 charge? What about a subsidy on changing from full-fat to skimmed milk, or from chocolate bars to 5 a day fresh fruit?

Perhaps it would simplify matters just to give me a pre-loaded debit card to shop at Tesco every week for all my better-for-you requirements - after all, my health must improve and ultimately save the NHS money, particularly after my trip to the shop on my NHS provided tandem.

Ironically, we have only recently seen the last few chemists disappearing who held an alcohol licence for medicinal purposes - once the norm.

What’s the wholesale connection? E-cigarettes are an increasingly important if challenging category for us, and the news certainly makes the purchase of Well Pharmacy from The Co-op by Bestway seem inspired.

Just how the market develops, and the question of who grasps the opportunity and where the consumer chooses to shop, remain to be seen, and will be a challenge for us all to consider.

This week’s announcement that the EU wants members to tax these products in the same way as tobacco will add to the complications, if indeed we are still members of the EU by the time they decide on the matter.

Happy vaping.

Steve Parfett is chairman of AG Parfett & Sons