May 19, 2014 12:30 pm

Blu Ecigs UK chief expects few e-cigarette sellers to survive

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The number of e-cigarette sellers in the UK will plunge from “hundreds” to fewer than 10 over the next four years, according to the head of one of Britain’s biggest e-cigarette groups.

Jacob Fuller, chief executive of Blu Ecigs UK – which was bought by US tobacco group Lorillard last year – said the number of e-cigarette companies would be “vastly lower” in a few years’ time.

Britain’s fast-growing e-cigarettes traders – which have sales of about £200m – are set to consolidate rapidly in the coming years as independent rivals balk at tighter regulation, said Mr Fuller.

“Regulation will weed out the ones that aren’t able to maintain the standards that are needed,” said Mr Fuller, who forecast that there would be six to 10 companies left.

E-cigarettes that claim to help smokers quit tobacco will be regulated as medicines from 2016, while other e-cigarettes face tighter restrictions on ingredients.

Until recently, the market for e-cigarettes was dominated by smaller players, who would import generic products from China to sell in the UK.

Increasingly, however, big tobacco companies such as Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco have bought out smaller, independent rivals in an attempt to get a toehold in the market, which quadrupled in the UK in 2013.

“In three to four years, it will be very professional organisations that are left,” said Mr Fuller.

Blu Ecigs UK was formed after Mr Fuller sold his previous company Skycig to Lorillard for £30m. The tobacco giant operates Blu in the US, where it is the country’s largest e-cigarette company. Globally, the market for e-cigarettes is estimated to be worth anything between $3bn and nearly $5bn.

In three to four years, it will be very professional organisations that are left

- Jacob Fuller, Blu Ecigs UK chief

Over 2m Britons use e-cigarettes regularly, according to a survey by Action on Smoking and Health, the antismoking group.

In 2010, fewer than one-in-10 smokers had tried an e-cigarette, but by 2014 this figure had risen to more than half.

Not all have welcomed the rise of the e-cigarette. Some critics suggest that they could “renormalise” smoking and act as a “gateway” to tobacco, particularly as there are few advertising limits on e-cigarettes.

British American Tobacco launched an advert for its e-cigarette Vype this year, which was the first time in more than two decades that a tobacco company’s product had been advertised on television in the UK.

But the report by ASH also revealed that only 0.1 per cent of non-smokers regularly used an e-cigarette.

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