E-cigarettes: Tobacco Company Interests in Single Use Products

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Key points

  • “Disposable” products are not new – transnational tobacco companies have sold ‘cig-a-likes’ in the past and some still do
  • Transnational companies have all launched new products to catch some of this rapidly growing market
  • Company marketing material emphasises consumer convenience
  • There are concerns around increasing youth use of e-cigarettes and how much single use products are responsible
  • Products contain plastic and lithium batteries are often discarded and there is increasing evidence of environmental harm
  • There have been calls to regulate or ban these products in several countries


Since 2019, there has been a rapid growth in the market for ‘disposable’, or single use, e-cigarettes with independent brands such as Puff Bar, Bidi Stick and ElfBar initially dominating the market.12

These products have been controversial, with concerns around increasing youth use and environmental impact leading to widespread media coverage,34567 and warnings from health advocates and policy makers.8910 Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) reported survey data showing that in the UK in 2022, 52% of e-cigarette users were using “disposable” products, compared to 7% in 2020.9 Over the same period youth use of all e-cigarettes increased from 4 to 7% (with those having ever tried the product rising from 14% to 16%). Nearly a third of 16-17 year olds had tried them.9 For more details on the debates surrounding e-cigarettes, and the role of the tobacco industry, see Harm Reduction.

Despite their sustainability claims,111213 three of the ‘big 4’ of transnational tobacco companies (TTCs) launched new single use e-cigarettes in 2022 to compete in this fast-growing market, saying that this was to meet consumer demand and a desire for convenience. However, single use products are not new, or even new to TTCs. Earlier products resembled cigarettes, referred to as ‘cig-a-likes’, or pens. As of early 2023 some of these products were still being marketed alongside the new bar-type products (see below).

Calls for bans and taxes

There have been calls to ban single use e-cigarettes in a number of countries, including the UK,14151617 Ireland, 1819 Estonia,20 Germany,21 France22 and Switzerland.23

In the UK, one supermarket chain removed all single use e-cigarettes from its stores in December 2022.24 ASH proposed a specific tax on single use products, but this appeared to have been rejected by the UK Government.725

In January 2023, the Scottish Government announced that it had commissioned an urgent review into their environmental impact.26

Challenges enforcing existing regulations

In the UK any e-cigarette product on sale must be notified to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which is responsible for checking the data submitted by manufacturers and importers.2728 If this information meets the required checks products are listed on the MHRA website and can be legally sold on the UK market.29 While the MHRA can investigate reports of non-compliance, local Trading Standards officials (in multiple separate local authorities) are responsible for checking that products on sale match the information supplied to the MHRA.2730 This is increasingly challenging as huge numbers of new products are added to the database: on 30 March 2023, a search of the MHRA product database for ‘disposable’ e-cigarettes produced over 10, 000 entries for products listed since January 2021, with over 1000 new entries in two months, an average of around 200 per week.29

In the US some companies have argued that the use of synthetic nicotine in single use e-cigarettes means that they are not ‘tobacco’ products and therefore fall outside the remit of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).31 Proposals to tighten regulation were welcomed by US e-cigarette market leader JUUL Labs (which at the time was part-owned by Altria):

“illegally marketed and illicit products and products designed to evade federal and state oversight undermine harm reduction and a responsible e-vapor category.”3132

Fast growing market

The value of the global market for single use products has been estimated to be between US$5 and $6billion in 2022.17 This figure has been projected to triple in the next 10 years, according to analysis published in the tobacco industry publication Tobacco Reporter.1

In 2021, market research company Euromonitor International estimated the total value of the market for all e-cigarettes and related products to be over US$22 billion.33

Figure 1: Global value of e-cigarette sales, 2021.(Source: Euromonitor International, E-Vapour Products: Market size by retail value, accessed February 2022)33

Euromonitor includes both older style cig-a-like products and newer bar-type products in its ‘closed system single use’ e-cigarette market category.34 The largest market for single use products is the US, worth close to US$I billion in 2021. The UK market was worth over US$100 million, followed by Russia, Canada and South Korea.33

Globally in 2021 only two brands recorded over 25% share of the single use market: EVO Brands’s Puff with sales recorded from 2020 and Kaival Brands Bidi Stick which arrived on the market in 2019. Between 2020 and 2021, Bidi Sticks’ market share grew whereas Puff’s share fell. Euromonitor only recorded sales for both brands in the US, where they dominate the market.33 In 2021, both companies held a similar share (1.6%) of the total e-cigarette market, although as of March 2023, EVO’s products had not received market authorisation in the US and the company was facing enforcement action by the FDA.3335 Philip Morris International (PMI) has partnered with Kaival to market a disposable product outside the US. See below.

In the UK, as of 2021, the market leading brand was ElfBar.33

While it was the smallest category in 2021, from 2019 the global single use market  grew at least as quickly as other e-cigarette categories.33  Other data has suggested that users of reusable e-cigarettes may be switching to disposables.536 A retailer magazine reported Nielsen data suggesting that disposables have negatively affected UK sales of rechargeable devices from JTI, Imperial and JUUL and BAT’s  10 Motives (although this brand also includes single use products).37

Old products – new variations

Image of cigalike e-cigarettes

Image 1: Disposable e-cigarettes (Source: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 38

Cig-a-likes and pen shapes

The single use devices first marketed by TTCs were generally small cig-a-likes which resemble cigarettes, often with a white body and imitation filter. The nicotine containing liquid is held in a small container or cartridge which is not refillable, and the device contains a battery which is not rechargeable.39

Pen-shaped e-cigarettes resemble a pen or laser pointer and are often larger than cig-a-likes, with more battery capacity.40 Many of these devices are refillable, although TTCs have also sold single use versions (see image 1).38

  • Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has been selling pen-shaped “disposable” e-cigarettes in the US since acquiring the Logic brand in 2015.4142
  • BAT sells a single use cig-a-like in the UK under its subsidiary brand Ten Motives.2443 Euromonitor began recording sales of this brand in 2021.33 By February 2022 the Ten Motives website was also selling BAT’s new bar-type disposable product 44
  • Imperial Brands also had a single use e-cigarette shaped like a pen on sale in the US.45 Most of Imperial’s rechargeable products, sold under the myblu brand, received a marketing denial order from the FDA in April 2022, meaning they cannot be legally sold in the US.46 As of February 2023 the FDA had not made a decision on Imperial’s disposables and cig-a-like rechargeables.
  • PMI has had fewer interests in e-cigarettes. Until 2020, it focussed on developing and promoting its heated tobacco product IQOS. Its rechargeable e-cigarette IQOS VEEV (originally launched in 2020 as Mesh) is available in some markets.

See E-cigarettes: The Basics for information on other product types

New bar-type products

In mid-2022 BAT and PMI launched new single use products within two months of each other.

In 2022 BAT referred to Vuse Go as its “first disposable – modern disposable – product”.47 In February 2023 it reported that it was on sale in 24 countries.48

In July 2022, PMI signed a deal with Kaival subsidiary to develop and market PMI’s VEEBA single use product outside the US, initially in Canada.1495051 VEEBA was officially launched in the UK in March 2023.52

Imperial Brands followed, launching its single use Blu Bar in the UK in November 2022.53

These newer products are all bar-type rather than cig-a-likes or pen-shaped.

Nicotine salts

Like many other e-cigarettes, Vuse Go,54 VEEBA55 and Blu Bar,56 all use nicotine salts. These are created when ‘freebase’ nicotine is dissolved in acid, which can make a higher dose of nicotine easier to inhale and less irritating to the throat.575859 This can also increase the speed and level of nicotine delivery to the user,59 which  has been linked to increased initiation, dependence and frequency of use among youth.58606162 A study in the Netherlands, published in 2022, found that single use products more often contained nicotine salts than refills.59

Market motivation

In February 2023, BAT reported that the growth of the single use market had negatively impacted its e-cigarette market share in a number of countries.48 It also stated that sales of single use products may, to some extent, replace other BAT products already on the market.48

BAT’s Vuse Go launched first in the UK in May, which the company described as its “fastest concept to market delivery to date.”6364 This appears to be a response to a falling e-cigarette market share in France, Germany and the UK.  After launching Vuse Go In France and Germany BAT was able to maintain the highest markets share, and in the UK its market share stabilised.48

In a presentation to investors in June 2022, finance and transformation director described BAT’s intention to launch new products every year:65

We have just opened up a new hub in China to be closer with suppliers, so we are able to develop a stronger pipeline and making sure that, for every single of these categories, we have a rhythm of reaching at every single year with novelties in the market.”65

Imperial Brands, in a conference for investors and analysts, stated:“what we are observing is not that the market is switching from pod systems into disposables. The disposable growth goes on top of the pod-based systems”.66

At that time Imperial said “we are clearly going to watch whether that is an opportunity that we see, long term, being part of the proposition”.66

In February 2022, PMI stated that “profit per user” was  estimated to be similar for “disposable e-vapor” as for nicotine pouches.67 Exactly one year later in another presentation to investors PMI noted that ”disposable e-vapor” was a “category where loyalty is low and things are moving very, very, very fast” and that a lack of consumer loyalty could “weaken the model to generate profit”.68 PMI stated that it intended to develop disposable products in “the profitable manner with the highest standard of ethic [sic] and responsibility”.68

BAT lobbying against competitors

BAT, as Reynolds American, used a ‘citizen’s petition’ to lobby the FDA to have its rival’s products removed from sale, citing use by young people.697071 US advocacy group the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) called BAT’s actions “shameless hypocrisy”, pointing out that BAT/Reynold’s e-cigarette Vuse was the second most popular brand among youth after Puff Bar in the US.72 CTFK also noted that BAT/Reynolds was “seeking to overturn the FDA’s decision denying marketing authorization for two menthol-flavored Vuse products – a decision the FDA made precisely because of the risk these products pose to youth.”72

Image of an Imperial Tobacco presentation slide showing blu bars

Image 2: Slide for presentation at Consumer Analysts Group of New York conference, February 2023 (Source: imperialbrandsplc.com)73

Promoted for convenience

When talking about single use products on their websites, and in corporate presentations, tobacco companies all refer to convenience for the consumer.

On its website, BAT promotes the product as “designed for on the go moments”,74 In material directed towards investors it has referred to “the modern disposable segment with its convenient and flexible format.”75 This fits with BAT’s promotion of its various products, including cigarettes, for different “moments” in the day.

In February 2022, at a consumer analysts conference in New York (CAGNY) PMI stated to potential investors that:

“Responsibly marketed disposables provide a convenient and simple entry point to adult smokers switching for the first time, and a hassle-free option for smoke-free poly-users.67

When PMI presented its financial results in July, it used the same statement, but the term “legal-age smokers” was used instead of “poly users”.76 See also the section on dual and poly use on the page about IQOS heated tobacco products.

In a presentation to potential investors in early 2023, Imperial Brands referred to the “new convenient format” of its disposable blu bar (see image 2).73

Fast moving consumer goods marketed for convenience or ‘On the go’ use are frequently littered, potentially increasing environmental harm.7778

Environmental impact

The manufacturing of single use e-cigarettes, like that of other newer products, involves a range of processes that are significantly more environmentally intensive compared to the process for producing combustible cigarettes. These can include the production of plastics, the extraction of metals like lithium for electronic components, and the chemical production of nicotine-containing liquids.79 For more information see Tobacco and the Environment.

Single use e-cigarettes are classed as electronic waste and should be disposed of following the correct procedures to avoid fire hazard, and the release of toxic chemicals into the environment. 80 However, most are improperly discarded in household waste or the environment.78182  This leads to e-liquid chemicals such as nicotine salts, microplastics from the plastic casing, and flammable lithium-ion batteries and associated chemicals (heavy metals, lead, mercury) in waterways and soil, and consumed by wildlife.8384

According to the not-for-profit Material Focus, each single use device battery contains on average 0.15g of lithium, making for an estimated 10 tonnes of this “critical” raw material being discarded  globally per year, equivalent to the batteries in around 1,200 electric vehicles.7808182 They also contained copper, roughly the equivalent needed for 1.6 million home electric vehicle chargers.7 If they were not discarded after a single use, the lithium-ion batteries could be recharged or recycled into new batteries.808182

Despite a legal obligation, in the UK and EU, for producers of any electronics to provide recycling schemes for these products,7 properly disposing of e-cigarettes is a difficult process, particularly for users without their own transport.85 TTCs have promoted their individual recycling schemes on their websites.5680818687 However, an investigation by UK newspaper The Financial Times, found that supermarket staff in London were not aware of recycling schemes for these products.7

UK retailers face potential fines for not providing a ‘take back’ service for used e-cigarettes.88 Retail magazine Better Retailing reported in April 2023 that the large tobacco companies did not appear to be supporting UK retailers with the recycling of their products.89

Relevant Links

The environmental impact of disposable vapes, research briefing to the UK Parliament, 28 November 2022

Regulation of Tobacco Products
For up-to-date information on tobacco regulation, see the Tobacco Control Laws website, published by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK).

TobaccoTactics Resources


E-cigarettes: The Basics

Newer Nicotine and Tobacco Products: Tobacco Company Brands

Tobacco Industry Product Terminology

Harm Reduction

Tobacco and the Environment

TCRG Research

For a comprehensive list of all TCRG publications, including TCRG research that evaluates the impact of public health policy, go to the Bath TCRG’s list of publications.

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