Disposable Vaping has become the UK’s biggest trend in next generation products since the introduction of Nic Salts. The compact, colourful little devices have been making significant waves in the vaping industry since taking shelves by storm in 2021. Their popularity stems from their convenience, low initial cost to consumer, and wide range of available nic salt e-liquid flavours.
Despite their popularity, which presents a whole host of benefits to retailers looking to stock them, disposable vapes come with some critical negatives. Retailers who are considering adding these hot-ticket items to their inventory should take extra care to understand the risks and measure them against the potential benefits.
What are Disposable Vapes?
Disposable vapes come in different shapes and sizes but they all largely conform to the same design principals:
- An all-in-one (AIO) device assembly
- Buttonless activation
- Single use – no recharging
- An internal chamber containing approximately 2ml of e-liquid
- A small battery designed to last just long enough to consume the e-liquid
- A brightly coloured hard, non-recyclable plastic shell
- The e-liquid inside is always nicotine salts or ‘nic salt’, typically high strength 10 or 20mg.
- Almost all will give an indication of lifespan given in ‘puffs’ – eg, ‘600 puffs’
Why are Disposable Vapes a Good Thing?
The sheer popularity of disposable vapes alone makes them a highly tempting addition for most retailers’ inventories. They are ‘trending’ everywhere consumers take influence, from social media to shop windows, it’s hard to leave the house without seeing a disposable vape in 2022.
For consumers of nicotine products, regardless of whether they vape yet or not, the temptation is ever-present which makes them a very easy item to promote and sell as they are relatively self-marketed at this point through the actions of word of mouth and social media.
Stocking brands like Geek and Elf bar, or relative newcomers Elux will immediately generate sales through recognition alone. These brands were the ones to hit UK shelves first, and retain a reputation of quality and reliability as a result. While not without their faults, these brands in particular present greater opportunity for profit than others.
Many retailers will also be carrying brands like Totally Wicked within their vaping category, most likely bottled e-liquid or pod devices in smaller convenience stores. Many of these brands too have ignored the issues surrounding disposable vapes and have invested in their own branded lines. This again presents an additional conversion opportunity as many vapers stick to their chosen brands and purchase habitually. Combining the convenience of disposables with a brand people know and trust means they will sell that much faster and more easily.
The nature of disposable vapes combined with the behaviour of their users makes them extremely fast moving. The fact that an average 600 puff disposable will last at most 2-3 days, translates to repeat business. While some users will pick one up as an alternative to their existing vape for a night out or standalone occasion, there is a whole segment of vapers who have only ever used, and continue to use disposables vapes exclusively.
One of the moral downsides of disposables acts as a commercial benefit here in that often the e-liquid is consumed before the battery runs out, or vice-versa. This often means that a customer will seek to replace their unit sooner than even the manufacturers would estimate. Of course it goes without saying that the additional impulse purchases made alongside a regular vape replacement means disposables have the potential to generate additional revenue than other vaping products like 10ml bottles or refillable pod devices.
Despite the rise in disposable popularity, the sales figures for traditional vaping products like 10ml bottles have remained largely unchanged. This tells us that there is a dedicated and entirely new audience buying disposables. The benefit here is that a retailer can enjoy their usual footfall alongside an entirely new customer base, by incorporating disposables into their stock.
Eye-Catching Merchandising Options
The social media presence of these devices have earned them ‘trending’ status, and this makes them very desirable. While this alone means that just having a healthy selection in-store will draw in potential customers, their design also plays a role. They are intentionally bright and creative in their design, which makes them very eye-catching. Different brands use different stylings and colourways to denote different flavours which again gives customers a lot to feast their eyes on and entices curiosity at the very least.
Why are Disposable Vapes a Bad Thing?
While we have explored the potential commercial positives disposables offer, it is vital that retailers understand the negatives these devices are becoming increasingly infamous for. The potential for profit must be weighed against not only a duty of care to consumers but also the individual moral stance of any given retailer.
Away from personal opinion and morality, the increasing attention from Trading standards agents across the UK make these a high-risk/high-reward option. You may enjoy a temporary boost in profits by carrying them, however you may also face severe reprimand and fines by official authorities for a number of reasons. The worst part is that without a strong understanding of vaping regulations, retailers can fall into these traps without even knowing they are breaking the law.
This has become the hottest debate among authorities. The biggest issue associated with disposable vapes is that they are regularly falling into the hands of underage users. Many of whom have never vaped or smoked previously, introducing a whole new generation to nicotine addiction.
The bright colours, flashy designs, and creative flavours (which often mimic sweets and beverages younger audiences gravitate towards), have faced harsh scrutiny. This has only deepened as time has progressed, and officials are looking to take definitive action to clamp down on retailers to ensure this trend is curtailed.
While this may seem a harsh approach, unfortunately there has been explicit evidence which proves many retailers across the country have not been acting responsibly in their sale of disposable vapes. Either caught up in the profit whirlwind or simply demonstrating a willingness to break the law, retailers from Glasgow, to Lancashire, to Bournemouth and beyond have been caught red handed by Trading standards agents. These stores have been stung by underage shoppers who have been repeatedly sold disposable vapes, despite warnings and guidance from Trading standards. In almost every case, locals reported disreputable behaviours and trading standards utilised underage agents in an ongoing sting which has yielded shocking results.
Any retailer carrying disposable vapes must act responsibly or face the wrath of authorities who are rapidly moving to a ‘take no prisoners’ stance in an effort to break the youth access crisis. With disposable vapes turning up in schools on a daily basis, harsh action should come as no surprise.
One of the biggest issues of public safety from disposable vapes comes in the form of illegal variants which have flooded the market since launch. Initially these were introduced by frankly shady van salesmen who acted to capitalise on the sudden trend. Retailers were desperate to keep these devices well stocked and so would accept offers from less reputable salesmen who were in fact touting illegal disposables that do not comply with UK or EU safety laws.
Intended for the American and Chinese markets, these devices are 30mg above the legal nicotine limit in the UK – as high as 50mg vs the legal 20mg. This is not always accurately reflected on the packaging. In addition, said packaging does not carry the required warnings and symbols intended to protect consumers from allergens or harmful components. As these devices would not pass UK registration for safety reasons, these devices are a huge unknown, with no regulatory body ensuring banned flavour chemicals like Diacetyl (infamously linked to popcorn lung) are not present. They contain over the legal 2ml e-liquid limit also, as they are described as offering circa 3000 puffs versus the 400-600 typical of legal examples.
With many retailers stocking these devices because of their popularity alone, education around vaping regs is thin on the ground, and many have fallen afoul of illegal stock because they simply do not know how to differentiate the legal from the illegal. Some retailers are choosing to stock them regardless, which is creating a reputation of mistrust from consumers – who rely on the seller to be providing only safe and legal products.
Trading standards have already seized countless examples of illegal disposables, with entire wholesale warehouses in Glasgow losing 98% of their stock. These were only the first in a nationwide crackdown that means any retailer carrying disposables will face scrutiny and could risk losing their stock or worse still licenses to carry certain goods or even trade at all.
Disposables pose a moral issue in terms of duty of care to customers. The nature of nic salt e-liquid means that an extremely high strength like 20mg is very smooth – the experience belays the staggering amount of nicotine they deliver. This plays into the hand of youngsters who are able to puff on them with ease despite the fact that even a legal disposable (20mg, 600 puff) contains as much nicotine as 50 cigarettes.
When we consider that a consumer can use-up a disposable in one night out, or in a couple of days at most, the scope for addiction is staggering. An ex-smoker looking for an alternative may use disposables as a seemingly cheap and easy way to experiment with vaping, only to inhale more nicotine than their previous use of cigarettes would deliver, deepening their addiction even more despite being spared the grim chemicals in tobacco smoke. In the hands of a youngster who is only vaping because it trends on TikTok, this incredibly high dose of nicotine means they are almost instantly going to develop an addiction that, without access to vaping products, means they may turn to cigarettes just to get their fix.
Imagine then, if these examples were not given in terms of legality, and instead they were using a 50mg, 3000 puff disposable like a Geek Bar Pro. the insane amount of nicotine delivered will not only foster a powerful addiction, but also is far more likely to lead to nicotine overdose, which can be extremely unpleasant.
Disposables present one of the least environmentally conscious products the vaping industry has ever produced. They are single use – already a negative. They are made from entirely unrecyclable material. They contain a cheaply made battery which poses a risk of explosion if exposed to the elements. They contain trace amounts of nicotine and e-liquid residue which is harmful to a variety of aquatic life and is a general pollutant.
Their nature as a disposable item also encourages people to throw them away however they please. Often without care into municipal bins, or as evidence all-too-often has proven, dumped on the floor, littering our streets. Considering they contain pollutants and an explosive battery; this makes the fact they are regularly littered a major problem. A problem that is rapidly multiplying because of the high rate of sale, millions of devices have already been sold across the nation, and a very small percentage of those will be disposed of correctly, in a waste electronics (WEEE) bin.
Unlike NextGEN360, the businesses behind the biggest disposable vaping brands do not entertain any kind of corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy. This essentially means that they are not factoring in sustainability into their business models, and means that the responsibility falls exclusively to the retailers and consumers when it comes to disposing of vaping products safely. You can view our own CSR policy here.
While some brands have since attempted to remedy this issue with rechargeable elements added, many users complain that their battery dies before they have got their moneys worth out of the e-liquid, which is still inside. Equally, there are many anecdotal examples of the opposite; a persons e-liquid is gone but the device still has power. Both issues have led to an increasing sense of false economy from disposable users.
This is actually truer than many people realise – users often praise the affordability of disposables, which cost circa £5-£6 versus £20+ for a more traditional re-usable e-cigarette. With many retailers selling bundles of two disposables for around £10 pounds, people often feel it is the cheapest way to vape. Sadly, this is far from correct. In reality the amount paid per disposable measured against the cost of using a proper device and bottled e-liquid/pods leaves much to be desired long-term. It works out far cheaper to vape traditionally if you are going to be a regular user.