If you’re a vaper in the United States, you might be surprised to learn that the vaping industry in other areas of the world looks completely different from the way it looks here. In the U.S., it’s been a very long time since the cigalike was the most popular type of mainstream vaping product. Pod-based e-cigarettes like JUUL appeared in 2015, and by the end of the 2010s, nearly everyone who vaped and hadn’t stepped up to a larger mod was using a pod system.
In many other areas of the world, though, the vaping industry hasn’t evolved in the same way. In the United Kingdom, for instance, JUUL wasn’t available for the first several years of its existence. That’s because JUUL was only available in one nicotine strength for many years – a very high 59 mg/ml – and the Tobacco Products Directive in the U.K. and Europe limits the maximum strength of any nicotine-containing e-liquid to 20 mg/ml. Therefore, it wasn’t legal to sell JUUL – or any of the many JUUL clones with similar nicotine strengths – in the U.K.
Without JUUL to redesign the industry in its image, the vaping industry evolved very differently in the UK from the way in which it evolved here – and one of the biggest differences is that the traditional vape starter kit is very much alive and well there.
That’s right – the U.K. cigalike is still very much a thing, and it’s still the first choice for many, many British smokers who have decided to make the switch to vaping.
So, why are cigalikes still so popular in the U.K.? The fact that JUUL wasn’t available there for many years wasn’t the only reason, because you can buy JUUL in the U.K. now. The fact is, though, that the JUUL brand missed its opportunity to be present in the U.K. during a critical stage in the evolution of that nation’s vaping industry.
Here’s why so many British smokers are still choosing cigalikes when they switch to vaping.
Pod Systems Don’t Have Extreme Nicotine Strengths as a Differentiating Factor
One of the biggest reasons why pod systems became so popular in the United States was because the first pod systems also introduced nicotine salt e-liquid to the American vaping market. Before nicotine salt came along, it wasn’t possible for a small e-cigarette to deliver as much nicotine per puff as a tobacco cigarette. Having a lower pH than traditional freebase nicotine e-liquid, nicotine salt made it possible to create higher-nicotine vape juices that didn’t irritate the throat. So, for many smokers in the United States, pod systems made it easier to switch to vaping.
One of the drawbacks of having e-cigarettes with such high nicotine strengths, though, is that those e-cigarettes have very high addictive potential. One of the reasons for the nicotine strength limitation stipulated in the Tobacco Products Directive is that it prevents e-cigarettes from being as addictive as tobacco cigarettes. If you want to switch to vaping in the U.K., you’ve got to adjust to a lower nicotine intake – just as many of us in the United States did before pod systems came along.
Without higher nicotine strengths as a differentiating factor, pod systems in the U.K. have to compete with cigalikes on equal terms. As it turns out, U.K. smokers aren’t all that interested in pod systems, and most of them are completely happy choosing the familiar-looking cigalikes instead.
Speaking of how the products look…
The Typical Pod System Design Doesn’t Appeal to All Smokers
It’s possible that the physical appearance of the products is another reason why smokers in the U.K. haven’t been quick to adopt pod systems.
Imagine that you’re a smoker. Maybe you’re a little bit older, and you’re not completely comfortable with unfamiliar gadgets. You visit a local convenience store, and you’ve got two products in front of you. One of them looks the same as a cigarette. It’s comfortable and familiar – and since cigalikes have been around as long as vaping has existed, it’s very affordable.
The other product looks like a gadget. It’s shaped like a USB thumb drive. It doesn’t look particularly friendly or familiar – and most importantly, it costs a lot more than the cigalike.
Given those two choices – and the fact that, given the limitation on nicotine strengths, they’re functionally the same – which device would you choose?
More than perhaps anything else, the physical design and the nicotine strength go a long way toward explaining why JUUL and similar pod-based e-cigarettes have failed to gain any significant traction in the U.K.
Some People May Choose to Avoid Controversy
A final reason why some smokers-turned-vapers in the U.K. may choose cigalikes is because they’ve read the news and simply don’t want any part of the controversy surrounding the JUUL brand. There have been many, many lawsuits filed against JUUL in the United States alleging that the brand knowingly marketed its products to minors, among other complaints. The mainstream media hasn’t exactly been kind to brands like JUUL and Puff Bar over the past year or two, and the news stories about those brands aren’t just appearing in the U.S. Those reports are making their way around the world. Some U.K. smokers are choosing to switch to vaping with cigalikes rather than pod-based systems for that reason, whether it’s to distance themselves from the controversies or because they’re afraid that the pod-based devices will appeal to their children.
Whether JUUL intentionally marketed its products to teens or not is a question that will eventually play out in court. Regardless of the reason, though, there is no question that JUUL did appeal to teens in the United States. During the brand’s launch, JUUL pulled out all the stops. They hired young and attractive models to pose in their ads. They paid social media influencers to market their products. They held lavish launch parties.
While the promotional strategy made JUUL wildly successful in the short term, it also attracted a great deal of negative attention when millions of U.S. teens began vaping. One of the reasons why JUUL and similar brands haven’t had that level of success in the U.K. is because people are watching them too closely. They couldn’t possibly market their products that way again without getting into trouble.