Incoming regulation will ban disposable vapes. The brands behind this fast-growing category are already pivoting NPD to find workarounds – but will it be enough to protect them?

When is a disposable vape not a disposable vape? That is the question being posed by a slew of NPD from manufacturers in the wake of the government’s announcement it is to ban single-use devices from sale.

Disposables have been booming over the last few years – in 2023 driving the category to more than double in value to £1.7bn. Volumes doubled too – an additional 155.2 million units had gone through tills. They are beloved by users who value their ultra-convenience versus other formats, and retailers for their high margins and broad appeal. But they have seen rising use among teens, and are frequently littered or sent to landfill – prompting the government to begin the legislative process for their outright ban.

The government’s “crackdown” has prompted a flurry of regulation-dodging innovation in the category. As leading disposable maker SKE says, it “continuously monitors and anticipates potential legislative change” and “realised it needed to take pre-emptive action”.

And the resulting devices last longer than any disposable and can contain six times as much nicotine liquid.

The latest wave of NPD is “evidence of the Chinese manufacturers being well ahead of legislators and always having a ‘solution’ to circumnavigate forthcoming changes”, says Simon Lawrence, owner of independent vape retailer Kwik Vape.

But do the design tweaks do enough to avoid them being blocked from sale? And how might these products fare in a post-disposable vape Britain?

“Looks so good it should be illegal,” reads the promotional material for the latest vape release from brand Pixl. The device – which was pitched to retailers at the Food & Drink Expo this month – looks and feels like an oversized disposable device. But, urged the salesperson on the stand, it isn’t.

Unlike the now ubiquitous disposables, the device – and many others like it that have hit the market in recent months – is presented to the consumer in two parts which they must fit together themselves. One part features a rechargeable battery, prefilled tank containing nicotine liquid and mouthpiece; the other a 10ml bottle of e-liquid.

vape vaping

‘Big puff’

It’s not the only puff-boosting innovation claiming current and future-proofed compliance. A device from equipment manufacturer Galaxy Link features a removable, rechargeable battery pack, which magnetically attaches to a prefilled 12ml tank and mouthpiece. Others have introduced ‘four-in-one’ devices into which the consumer places four 2ml tanks at once, and can swivel between flavours.

One leading industry source told The Grocer they had seen soaring interest from consumers and retailers in these so-called “big puff” devices in recent months.

“Demand was already growing pre-ban announcement because consumers were recognising the value for money available to them with other vaping products like refillable pods and open systems,” they said. “But the convenience of disposables was proving too valuable to switch away from, thus the ‘big puff’ demand was born. The ban announcement has accelerated supply, too, as businesses look for loopholes.”


instaflow vape

One emerging format is the instant fill type device, offered by the likes of Instaflow and Pixl. Post-purchase, consumers add a 10ml bottle of liquid to the device. The result is an assembled device containing 12ml of nicotine juice – the current regulatory maximum for a single-use device is 2ml – which brands say won’t fall foul of a future ban. Or, as the marketing material puts it: “legal big puff”.


Galaxy Link

vape battery

Chinese white label manufacturer Galaxy Link is offering brands a device containing 12ml of liquid with a rechargeable battery that attaches magnetically. The industry has long lobbied to raise tank size limit from 2ml, to reduce the environmental impact per device. But some insiders have warned against brand workarounds in the pursuit of larger puff counts, as they reduce repeat purchases.


Lost Mary

lostmary vape

In February, disposable giant SKE claimed to be the first to launch a ‘four in one’ type device, in direct response, it said, to the disposable ban. A kit – containing four flavoured cartridges selected with a spinning mechanism – is being sold for £9.99, compared to SKE’s single bars at £3.49, meaning the device can “offer the same advantages as disposables when it comes to prices” SKE says. Rivals such as ElfBar-owned Lost Mary are responding with similar products.

The spirit of regulation

Their manufacturers, the majority concentrated in ‘vape capital of the world’ Shenzhen in China, have clearly read the coming restrictions, and are pushing them to their limits.

“Some in the vape space have complained these innovative products are not in the ‘spirit of the regulation’,” says Robert Sidebottom, MD of Arcus Compliance. “Regulations must be written robustly to avoid any misinterpretation regarding the ‘spirit’. What matters is the detail of the text in the regulation and not the spirit.”

Clauses are being capitalised on. While present regulations limit tank sizes in devices to 2ml, this is only at point of sale.

“If the product is legal at the point of sale and the consumer then wishes to attach a refill container which is defined as a ‘docking’ within the regulation, then that is ‘consumer choice’ and the product will likely be accepted as conforming to the regulation,” Sidebottom explains.

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However, some may be caught by the Environmental Protection (Single-use Vapes) (England) Regulations 2024, currently on its first reading in parliament but due to come into force in April next year. The government has defined a disposable device as one which is not refillable, rechargeable or both.

The coming rules specifically state: “a vape is not rechargeable if it is designed to contain…a coil which is not intended to be replaced by an individual user in the normal course of use, including any coil which is contained in a single-use cartridge or pod which is not separately available and cannot be replaced”.

With a fixed coil – with limited lifespan – that leaves the future fate of some consumer-assembled 12ml devices in doubt.

“Docking is not comprehensively defined in the regulation and there is some debate, that may have to be tested in law, if that means removable or otherwise,” Sidebottom says.

Others argue they will fall foul since the coil cannot be readily replaced.

Disposable vapes on shelf

Closing loopholes

The industry source says: “During the consultation on disposable vapes, the concern about businesses exploiting loopholes, and youth access to vaping remaining easy, both seemed strong among industry commentary.

“It seems as though the government are aiming to close off loopholes – based on the draft legislation, the instant fill style wouldn’t be legal.”

But this is just the start of a wave of NPD designed to skirt coming restriction, or capitalise on demand in the meantime, in this fast-moving category.

“Consumers want the convenience of disposables, but with better value,” adds the industry source.

“We’ll see lots of different NPD launching this year which might test current boundaries, but which might not be legal next year.”