An easy way for smokers to try e-cigarettes? Or a slippery slope towards heavy regulation as vaping increases among minors?
"The point is actually to get cigarettes off the market," says Fritte Vanecek, who runs the Ecigg chain.
Single-use models, disposables, vape bars - simply smaller, high-nicotine e-cigarettes that are discarded when the e-liquid or battery runs out. Right from the start, they raised concerns and debate. And there's more to come. Vejpkollen met with Fritte Vanecek, the entrepreneur who launched the first disposable models in Sweden two years ago. Today, he and the Eciggboaget company
Started at a petrol station
2020 began Circle K petrol chain sell e-cigarettes in their shops. It was the first major venture into e-cigarettes, at least from a company outside the established tobacco industry. But it certainly wasn't a foregone conclusion a few years ago," he says. Fritte Vanecek.
"It was an untested product. I convinced the owner of a local petrol station in Stockholm to test sell N-one. I knew the staff and could help them understand the product and explain it to customers. We ran for six months on a trial basis. Then we expanded to a few more petrol stations. It turned out that they worked very well to sell, and that was seen in the centre as well. That's the way it was."
The market is exploding
The rest, as they say, is history. And although N-one was the first in Sweden, today everything from small Swedish companies to large Chinese companies have entered the disposable cigarette market. The market is flooding There is a wide variety of models, with everything from well-known juice manufacturers to established ecigarette makers putting their name on the colourful packages. Disposable vapes are now available in almost every convenience store.
Accidentally slipped in
Fritte Vanecek slipped into the e-cigarette business many years ago. He was working in a different industry - far from vapour, nicotine and controversy - when one of the employees came to work with a vape and blew clouds on the coffee breaks.
"I didn't smoke myself and thought e-cigarettes were ridiculous. Then I started to realise what it was all about. The guy had quit smoking. Completely. From being a heavy smoker. It was an awakening," he says.
"Need to reach a wider audience"
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, he saw a business opportunity. He now runs his second vape company, with distribution and stores across the country. And while vape shops (stores that focus on e-cigarettes) are somewhat sacred to him as well, he wants to Fritte Vanecek taking the roadmap one step further
"The point of vaping and e-cigarettes is to remove cigarettes from the market. So e-cigarettes cannot only be available in vape shops. And if they are not available in the same shops that sell tobacco alongside cigarette packs, it won't work. Only a select few will succeed. We need to reach a wider audience." says Fritte Vanecek
Quickly saw the opportunities
When he saw the model that came to be known as the N-one for the first time, he was stunned, he says.
"Vaping is a bit too complicated for many smokers. Batteries, coils, liquid and mess. There are too many steps, for some. With a disposable model, you just pull off a plastic strip and start using it. Easier than pen models, easier than refillable pod systems." says Fritte Vaneck
Wanted to reach out to the masses
And so the idea of launching N-one was born. But not just in supermarkets, which were his usual customers. He wanted to reach out further, on a larger scale.
"I couldn't help but think about the possibilities, even though many in the industry didn't see the point. I came from a world where it was all about big clouds and cool mechanical mods. Not too many people found their way out of cigarettes with those products, but it was enough to make money. This model was so ridiculously simple in comparison and requires a different way of thinking," he says. Fritte Vanecek.
Not like traditional e-cigarettes
He has been distributing N-one for three years now. It has long been available in most dedicated roadside shops. But it was only when Circle K became interested, in the autumn of 2020, that things really took off, he says.
'We have also entered other places. But now there is competition. Now it's about keeping up and making sure we can meet the demand. Because this has become big," he says.
Disposable guns spark debate
But with the proliferation of disposable models comes criticism, not least from road warriors who started using e-cigarettes early and have seen the benefits of the technology requiring little thought and knowledge. The disposable model - a wear-and-tear product - stands in stark contrast to traditional e-cigarettes, where durability and replaceable parts have long been standard.
"It is obvious that this is new and a bit controversial even for road users. There are some in the vape world who don't like the idea. But there are just as many who think it's brilliant to have a simple vejp to put in your pocket at the party. Naturally, there will be some heated discussions on our forums." says Fritte Vanecek.
Concerns about increased use among young people
At the same time, the wider launch and dissemination of e-cigarettes raises concerns about attracting the 'wrong' audience: young people.
A recent example is the controversial Juul In 2017, the company launched simple, pre-filled e-cigarettes, with very high nicotine content (50 mg/ml). The key was a modified form of nicotine - nicotine salt. By lowering the pH of the nicotine, it reduced the "tear" in the throat that many people experience with high nicotine strengths. Despite the low effect, JUUL and its successors deliver nicotine that matches the effect of an analogue cigarette.
Juul attracted many smokers, but - because of its simplicity - also a lot of young people. And underage users quickly became the battleground in a heated debate that led to everything from local and national flavour bans to even stricter legislation.
Prohibitions and restrictions
But the trend also spread beyond the US. In recent years, many countries have taken an increasingly hard line on e-cigarettes. India banned the products completely in 2020. Denmark banned in principle all flavourings in 2021 and disposable models are in practice banned in the country. In Sweden The parliament recently cancelled a similar proposal for a flavour ban, which the government pushed with the support of both the public health authority and several lobbying organisations. The arguments were the same as in the US - e-cigs attract young people and must be restricted at all costs.
A smoke-free generation?
The popularity of JUUL and the subsequent single-use models have led to a slippery slope for carpeting around the world, critics say. And although European rules limit the nicotine content of e-cigarettes, the issue of liability hangs over the e-cigarette industry like a thick vapour. At the same time, there are commentators who see disposable models as the key to a smoke-free society.
"We cannot go back in time"
How do you see the risk of disposable products and simple pod systems attracting more minors to try vaping?
"Sure, there is always a risk of that. But young people are always testing things. The question is whether it's worse or more harmful than testing cigarettes? I don't think we can go back in time and skip the simpler pod systems. They have actually won over many smokers with their simplicity - precisely because they work so well today." says Fritte Vanecek.
"The goal is to get rid of cigarettes"
He also believes that public opinion against e-cigarettes will continue, regardless of which products are on the market. "The important thing is that e-cigarettes become something that everyone knows about," he says. Fritte Vanecek.
"I want everyone to know what an e-cig is. Everyone should know that it is not something that is deadly or explodes in your hand, as many people actually believe. And it should be easy for smokers to try an alternative that makes them give up cigarettes. The ultimate goal is to remove analogue cigarettes from the market." says Fritte Vanecek.
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