Cigarette alternatives: the rise of the eCig and the return of snuff

The eCigarette market is enjoying a boom. Figures from Ash show sales exploding in 2012, going from £2.5m to £23.9m. The sight of users producing clouds of white vapour from their little plastic tubes is now commonplace. Demand is such that means they are bucking the high street trend and opening new stores: one opened near me a few weeks ago. Inside it is compact and pharmaceutical in feel, the flavour variants in neatly colour-coded lines.


A relatively new industry, eCigs are about to be regulated which may affect how sales develop.

Data isn’t available but I’m interested in the degree to which eCigs are either:

  • A substitute for tobacco smoking
  • A supplement to tobacco smoking
  • Attracting a new consumer of nicotine who didn’t previously smoke

It might be a combination of the three. With reference to the latter, a BBC report recently suggested out schoolchildren who hadn’t previously smoked were trying eCigs, seeing them as new, different – giving “vaping” a go for a laugh. From what I have read there is not a consensus on the health implications of the eCig: they are likely more healthy than cigarettes but not without risk.

Other commentators have noted the return of snuff – dried, powdered tobacco – another nicotine variant which sidesteps the smoking ban. Anecdotally I have noticed younger people (18-34 year old males) using it in the past few months. It is cheap (lower duty than cigarettes), comes in a variety of flavours, and seems to have an “old school” caché. I can’t find figures on penetration but anecdotally it is not just people who are trying to give up cigarettes giving it a go. Its novelty seems to encourage trial amongst non-tobacco consumers – though it’s an acquired taste.


About Simon Shaw

I'm a Director at an insight consultancy. I'm interested in marketing, market research & consumer psychology. The views expressed are not necessarily those of my employer.
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