GTNF 2018

Latest innovations: Improving the consumer experience

The room was packed. The discussion was lively. Breakout session No. 1 at the 2018 Global Tobacco & Nicotine Forum (GTNF) focused on innovations in the tobacco and vapor industries and improving the consumer experience. The panelists included several representatives from the manufacturing, regulatory, research and development (R&D), and marketing segments of both vapor and traditional tobacco products.

The session was moderated by Mark Kehaya, chairman of AMV Holdings and a board member for Pyxus International. The panel began by discussing how innovation has changed the industry. Over the past 10 years, there has been a proliferation of products from early e-cigarettes to mechanical mods, and now small pod systems are the popular products today.

One panelist explained how, early in the vapor industry’s history, the Chinese manufacturers were fooled by the loudest consumer group at the time, “which we will call the cloud chasers who just wanted bigger, more powerful mods.” He said that now the Chinese manufacturers are seeing that there is a whole untapped market out there: the combustible cigarette smokers.

Today, more innovation is catering to the smoker and less toward the hobby groups. “We are always looking for the next hot product. We are often in China looking for the next products because they are constantly innovating,” the panelist said. “There are some major improvements and breakthroughs on the horizon. People are paying attention to R&D and are no longer just stealing designs from each other.”

Innovation has been something the Chinese manufacturers are embracing as well. Improving performance through better coils, atomizers and batteries has been a focus. Several panelists agreed that, moving forward, it is key for the industry to develop a set of product standards as well. “We can’t have batteries exploding,” a panelist said. “When one manufacturer does something poorly, it reflects on the whole industry.”

Technology in the vapor industry is maturing quickly. A panelist stated that the industry is now trying to figure out what innovations need to happen to achieve harm reduction. The answer, according to another speaker, is that “we need to provide smokers with safe, high-quality alternatives to smoking.”

One panelist explained that for these next-generation products to grow and succeed, the industry needs a product that delivers nicotine as well as—or better than—a combustible cigarette. “The products are getting better, but we are not there yet,” she said. “We will get there. We will make a difference and continue saving lives.”

Innovation can be expensive, but the return on investment is great, according to the panelists. Pod systems, for example, have brought exciting new innovations with more battery power in a smaller system that is easy to use. “That is better for everybody,” one panelist said. “Safety is also an important new segment seeing innovation, such as [the new Underwriters Laboratories] UL8139 standard. These new innovations will help elevate the industry to the next level.”

The vapor industry has been so successful partly because consumers can customize their vaping experience. Innovation has allowed the industry to offer high-quality products at affordable prices, and that should be allowed to continue. “This new phase we are embarking on is going to see quality brands stand out and new products that are much better,” said a speaker. “We will also see a lot of consolidation in the market.”

Ultimately, the goal of the vapor industry is to help people stop smoking combustible cigarettes. Even large tobacco companies want smokers to stop smoking. A speaker representing a major tobacco company, who also has a strong foothold in the vapor industry, stated that the technology in the vapor industry exists to create quality products. Those innovations have allowed for numerous products to be on the market that can fulfill the varying needs of a multitude of smokers. “We are committed to a smoke-free future,” he said.

In closing, it was agreed that the industry needs to be allowed to differentiate itself from combustible products. It is very difficult to do this if manufacturers, distributors and retailers can’t tell the consumer, or the public in general, that these products are less risky than smoking cigarettes. “No one debates that 7 of 10 smokers want to quit smoking,” said a speaker. “Vapor may be the best option for many smokers to quit smoking.”