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 dominating the market.12 In October 2023, industry analysts ECigIntelligence estimated that these products made up nearly 40% of the global e-cigarette market.34

Single use products have been controversial, with concerns around increasing youth use (see Box 1 below) and environmental impact leading to widespread media coverage,56789 and warnings from health advocates and policy makers.10111213 Some large UK retailers have announced that they will no longer sell single use products.1415

Despite their sustainability claims,161718 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).

Box 1: Increasing youth use of e-cigarettes in UK
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) reported survey data showing that in 2023, 69% of young e-cigarette users were using “disposable” products, compared to 7% in 2020, and an increase from 52% the previous year.1920 Over the same period youth use of all e-cigarettes more than doubled.1920
ASH Scotland noted that, according to the 200-21 Scottish government census, use of e-cigarettes in Scotland had more than doubled in five years.2122

Calls for bans and taxes

There have been calls to ban single use e-cigarettes in a number of countries, including the UK,2324252627 Ireland,2829 Estonia,30 Germany,31 France,32 and Switzerland.33

Bans announced

After running a consultation on youth vaping,3435 the UK government, in January 2024, announced a proposal to ban single-use e-cigarettes – “a key driver behind the alarming rise in youth vaping” – alongside other measures to prevent the sale of e-cigarettes to children.3637 ASH had proposed a specific tax on single use products in preference to a ban. In March 2024, the UK government instead announced plans to increase taxes on all e-cigarettes not included in the ban, according to level of nicotine.93839

The Scottish Government announced in January 2023 that it intended to ban single use products,40 and commissioned a review into their environmental impact.41 New regulations were announced in February 2024, under existing environmental protection legislation.42 4344

Bans have also been announced in Belgium,45 France,46 Poland,47 Australia,4849 and New Zealand.5051

Challenges enforcing 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.5253 If this information meets the required checks products are listed on the MHRA website and can be legally sold on the UK market.54 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.5255 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.54 By July this figure has risen to nearly 12,000.54

In the US some companies  argued that the use of synthetic nicotine in single use e-cigarettes means that they are not ‘tobacco’ products and therefore fell outside the remit of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).56 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.”5657

In April 2022 a law came into force specifying that the FDA could regulate products with nicotine from any source, closing this loophole.58 In June 2023, at an investor conference, BAT CEO Taddeu Marroco described the enforcement of the regulations for synthetic nicotine as “very weak”.59

Fast growing market

The value of the global market for single use products has been estimated to be between US$5 and $6billion in 2022.19 This figure has been projected to triple in the next 10 years, according to analysis published in the tobacco industry publication Tobacco Reporter.1

Market size

In 2022, market research company Euromonitor International estimated the total value of the market for all e-cigarettes and related products to be nearly US$19 billion.60

Single use products made up 6% of global e-cigarette sales in 2021, a share which more than doubled by 2022 to 15%.60

Euromonitor has estimated that the US market more than halved from nearly US$1 billion in 2021 to less than half a billion in 2022.60 The US and China, where regulatory restrictions have increased,6162 were the only markets in decline. The value of the UK market in 2022, compared to 2021, was more than 10 times greater and worth twice as much as the whole of the US market.60

Of the single use markets that Euromonitor records, the UK market grew the most in monetary value. Other markets, all in Europe, had also grown markedly in proportion to their 2021 value:  France, Switzerland, Slovakia and Austria had grown around ten times; the German and Greek markets had grown over 60 times.60 This made the German market the fourth largest globally after the UK, USA and Russia.60 The Egyptian market was not recorded in 2021 but in 2022 was estimated to be worth over US$44 million.60 The Egyptian market was also growing.60

Company and brand shares

Globally in 2022, the two leading single use brands were manufactured by Shenzhen Imiracle Technology: Elf Bar and Lost Mary.63 (ElfBar is now known as EBDesign in the US owing to a patent dispute with a US company.)64

In terms of TTC global market share, in 2022, BAT’s Vuse and Imperial’s Blue held much smaller shares.  NJoy (purchased by Altria in 2023 after it withdrew investment from JUUL Labs) held a negligible share.6563

In the UK the two Shenzhen Imiracle Technology brands dominated. In the other fast-growing European markets BAT’s VUSE held larger shares than other brands.63

Puff vs Bidi Stick

In 2021, two brands held a sizeable share of the global single use market: Kaival Brands’ Bidi Stick and EVO Brands’s Puff.66 As of 2023, EVO’s products had not received market authorisation in the US and the company was facing enforcement action by the FDA.666768

In June 2022, Philip Morris International (PMI) reached an agreement with Kaival to manufacture, distribute and market bidi stick and forthcoming “disposable” products outside the US (see below for details).6970 No sales outside the US have as yet been recorded by Euromonitor but products have been reported on sale (see below).

Users switching devices?

An academic research study has suggested that users of reusable e-cigarettes may be switching to single use products.771 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).72

Old products – new variations

Image of cigalike e-cigarettes

Image 1: Disposable e-cigarettes (Source: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 73

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.74

Pen-shaped e-cigarettes resemble a pen or laser pointer and are often larger than cig-a-likes, with more battery capacity.75 Many of these devices are refillable, although TTCs have also sold single use versions (see image 1).73

  • Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has been selling pen-shaped “disposable” e-cigarettes in the US since acquiring the Logic brand in 2015.7677
  • BAT sells a single use cig-a-like in the UK under its subsidiary brand Ten Motives.78 Euromonitor began recording sales of this brand in 2021.66 By February 2022 the Ten Motives website was also selling BAT’s new bar-type disposable product 79
  • Imperial Brands also had a single use e-cigarette shaped like a pen on sale in the US.80 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.81 As of February 2023 the FDA had not made a decision on Imperial’s disposables and cig-a-like rechargeables.
  • Prior to 2020, PMI focussed on developing and promoting its heated tobacco product IQOS and displayed little interest in e-cigarettes. Its rechargeable VEEV ONE – previously IQOS VEEV, and originally launched in 2020 as Mesh – is now 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”.82 In February 2023 it reported that it was on sale in 24 countries.83

In July 2022, PMI launched VEEBA, initially in Canada. Kaival Brands stated that its subsidiary Bidi Vapor’s IP, patents and development methods were used for VEEBA as part of their agreement with Philip Morris.1848586 VEEBA was officially launched in the UK in March 2023.87 In mid-2023, PMI rebranded VEEBA as VEEV NOW.7088

Imperial Brands followed, launching its single use Blu Bar in the UK in November 2022.89

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

Nicotine salts

Like many other e-cigarettes, Vuse Go,90 VEEBA91 and Blu Bar,92 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.939495 This can also increase the speed and level of nicotine delivery to the user,95 which  has been linked to increased initiation, dependence and frequency of use among youth.94969798 A study in the Netherlands, published in 2022, found that single use products more often contained nicotine salts than refills.95

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.83 It also stated that sales of single use products may, to some extent, replace other BAT products already on the market.83

BAT’s Vuse Go launched first in the UK in May, which the company described as its “fastest concept to market delivery to date.”99100 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.83

In a presentation to investors in June 2022, finance and transformation director described BAT’s intention to launch new products every year:101

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.”101

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”.102

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”.102

In February 2022, PMI stated that “profit per user” was  estimated to be similar for “disposable e-vapor” as for nicotine pouches.103 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”.104 PMI stated that it intended to develop disposable products in “the profitable manner with the highest standard of ethic [sic] and responsibility”.104

In June 2023, after PMI rebranded its single use e-cigarette VEEBA as VEEV NOW,  PMI’s chief financial officer Emmanuel Babeau stated in a presentation to investors that:

“…with VEEV NOW and VEEV ONE, we have really 2 great products on disposable and closed system (…) let’s go for the market where vaping is a significant market; where there is the hope for minimum regulation today or coming soon.”105

BAT acting against competitors

Lobbying against rivals in the US

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.106107108 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.109 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.”109

Testing products in the UK

According to the trade publication Better Retailing,  letters sent to wholesalers showed that from 2021 BAT had been commissioning its own lab tests on single use products produced its UK competitors.110 Better Retailing quoted BAT’s letter urging retailers stop selling any “non-compliant products”.110 It also wrote to the MHRA, and local authority Trading Standards teams throughout the UK.110111

BAT said:

Where we discover apparent compliance issues, we consider it can be constructive to share this independently certified evidence with our trade partners, regulators and enforcement agencies”.110

The Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBTVA) released a statement on 21 March, saying that, while it accepted that there were issues with compliance in some products, it was:

“becoming increasingly concerned that the tobacco industry and its affiliates are using this minority non-compliance to build a narrative that the independent vape industry cannot be trusted.”112113

The UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA), which at the time had tobacco company members, also put out a statement, but it did not refer to tobacco companies.114

In April 2023, the UK government announced that it would be launching a new “illicit vapes enforcement squad” to enforce regulations, led by Trading Standards with product tests conducted by an accredited independent laboratory.115116

In March 2024, BAT’s chief executive told the Financial Times that it welcomed the new tax on single-use products, saying “we love regulation”.117 Later that month, he told the BBC that a ban would not work and would result in an increase in illicit trade.118

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)119

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”,120 In material directed towards investors it has referred to “the modern disposable segment with its convenient and flexible format.”121 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.103

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”.122 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).119

Fast moving consumer goods marketed for convenience or ‘On the go’ use are frequently littered, potentially increasing environmental harm.123124

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.125 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. 126 However, most are improperly discarded in household waste or the environment.9127128  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.129130

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.9126127128 They also contained copper, roughly the equivalent needed for 1.6 million home electric vehicle chargers.9 If they were not discarded after a single use, the lithium-ion batteries could be recharged or recycled into new batteries.126127128

Despite a legal obligation, in the UK and EU, for producers of any electronics to provide recycling schemes for these products,9 properly disposing of e-cigarettes is a difficult process, particularly for users without their own transport.131 TTCs have promoted their individual recycling schemes on their websites.92126127132133 However, an investigation by UK newspaper The Financial Times, found that supermarket staff in London were not aware of recycling schemes for these products.9

UK retailers face potential fines for not providing a ‘take back’ service for used e-cigarettes.134 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.135

Relevant Links

Product regulation 
The Policy Scan Project, by the Institute for Global Tobacco Control (at Johns Hopkins University) tracks and reports regulatory approaches to nicotine pouches around the world.  For information on tobacco regulation more broadly, see the Tobacco Control Laws website, published by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK).

TobaccoTactics Resources

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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