VPZ

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VPZ operates a chain of e-cigarette stores in the United Kingdom. It also sells its own-brand devices and manufactures e-liquid through a sister company, Absolute E-Juice.1 The company has close financial links with Philip Morris International (PMI) via its UK subsidiary Philip Morris Ltd (PML).23

Background

VPZ is the trading name for CCHG Ltd, which was founded in 2012 by brothers Callum and Connor Henderson, who are listed on UK Companies House as having significant control of the company.456

Headquartered in Edinburgh, VPZ was previously known as Vaporized, until the company rebranded at the start of 2019.78

Relationship with the Tobacco Industry

Loans from Philip Morris Ltd

The Grocer reported that VPZ received a £15 million loan from PML in 2018.2 The funds allowed VPZ to fulfil one of its “main strategic objectives… to accelerate [its] store opening programme.”9

Analysis conducted by Tobacco Tactics has shown that VPZ also received a £9.6 million loan from PML in 2020, delivered through one of the retailer’s subsidiaries, RT812 Limited.101112

In February 2020, VPZ told The Grocer that “as the UK’s leading vaping retailer, our alignment [with PML] has supported our growth ambitions and offered a number of synergies as we aim to help even more Brits realise the transformative benefits of switching from smoking to the reduced-risk alternatives available.”2 A PML spokesperson told The Grocer that there are no plans to acquire VPZ “at this time.”2

Markets PMI’s HTP alongside E-cigarettes

IQOS, a heated tobacco product produced by PMI, has been promoted on VPZ’s website.13

The Grocer also reported that VPZ has a distribution deal with JUUL Labs to sell their products.2 Altria holds a 35% stake in Juul Labs.

Three VPZ directors previously worked for Fontem Ventures, a subsidiary of Imperial Brands (previously Imperial Tobacco).

Directors

As of October 2022, the following were listed as directors: 4

  • Douglas Mutter, Manufacturing and Compliance Director. He also deals with public affairs for the CCHG group. He worked for Fontem Ventures from 2012-2015.14 Mutter is also a Director of the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA).
  • William Rooney. He worked for Fontem Ventures from 2014.15
  • Ian Henderson, Finance Director. He worked at Fontem Ventures in 2015.16
  • Callum Henderson4
  • Mohamed Tahir4

Memberships and Partnerships

Activities

Tobacco Industry sponsored fringe event in Scotland

Douglas Mutter spoke at a fringe event at the 2019 Scottish National Party autumn conference, called “Where next for vaping in Scotland?” Mutter said that he was concerned about the “disinformation” about vaping, which he likened to that “about vaccination”. Scottish MSPs attended this event.18

Smoking cessation services in VPZ stores

VPZ began rolling out what it describes as “vape clinic” services in July 2021 to help users switch from cigarettes to e-cigarettes sold by the retailer. In 2022, the service was advertised as being available in 20 stores across the UK.19

Douglas Mutter, quoted in The Scotsman, said: “our new concept is an investment to fill the void left by the loss of local NHS stop smoking services.”20 However, consultations are with a VPZ employee rather than a trained healthcare professional.

In August 2022, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Scotland complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about the use of the term ‘clinic’ by VPZ and the claims about its cessation service.21

Ban smoking campaign

VPZ launched a campaign on 10 March 2022 to coincide with National No Smoking Day, calling for a “complete ban on smoking”. The retailer enlisted the services of former Tottenham and Liverpool player Neil “RazorRuddock to act as the campaign ambassador. As part of its anti-smoking campaign, VPZ argued that “vaping is fundamental to reaching this target” and highlighted its “vape clinic” services.22

In addition, VPZ brought petitions to both the British and Scottish governments calling for an outright ban on the sale of cigarettes and smoking.2324

In its petition to the Scottish government, VPZ referenced its consultation on restrictions around promotion and advertising of e-cigarettes, and argued that it “strongly believes that there should be advertising to promote and educate on the public health opportunity of vaping and welcomes engagement and dialogue on helping to shape a strategy”.24

Worked with NHS Trusts

In 2019, it was reported that VPZ had struck a deal with The Ladywell Unit at University Hospital Lewisham, one of the UK’s largest mental health hospitals, to provide free e-cigarettes to those trying to quit smoking. Every smoking patient was offered a £20 Hexa starting kit until the first 100 were used. The deal, reportedly the first of its kind, came under heavy criticism.25

Professor Martin McKee from the London School of Hygiene and Tropic Medicine told The Telegraph: “This is an extraordinary time for the NHS to engage in a project like this, in light of what we are seeing in the United States, and the risks of vaping.”25

The Telegraph also quoted Douglas Mutter, who said: “We will also work closely with them to monitor the impact of the project and aim to roll-out the scheme throughout the UK as we work towards transforming the health of the nation.”25

Campaigned for stores to be reclassified as “essential” during Covid pandemic

In February 2021, during the third national lockdown, VPZ launched an, ultimately unsuccessful, campaign for e-cigarette stores to be granted essential status.26 UKVIA conducted a similar campaign.27

Offered vouchers to frontline workers

In July 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, VPZ offered £100,000 in vouchers to NHS staff,  other emergency workers and members of the armed forces to claim a free e-cigarette as a “thank you” to frontline workers.28

The scheme was criticised by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) as a “marketing stunt” and a way to get around a ban on tobacco advertising. Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: “VPZ has been lent millions by Philip Morris. We’ll be reporting this to the authorities.” In response, a Philip Morris spokesperson said “the vouchers referred to cannot be redeemed for Philip Morris products because we took no part in the VPZ promotion. Any allegation of our involvement is incorrect.”29

Relevant Link

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.

References

  1. VPZ, About Us, Website, undated, archived February 2020, accessed July 2022
  2. abcdeScaring the giants, The Grocer, 15 February 2020, archived 7 March 2021, accessed October 2022. The article states that the loan was from Altria, which appears to be an error as PML is a subsidiary of PMI
  3. Philip Morris Limited, Company Number 03619145, Companies House record, access July 2022
  4. abcdCCHG Ltd, company number SC415497: Officers, Companies House record, accessed July 2022
  5. CCHG Ltd, company number SC415497: Persons with significant control, Companies House record, accessed July 2022
  6. CCHG Ltd: Full accounts made up to 31 December 2021, Companies House, accessed July 2022, available from OpenCorporates
  7. abE. Newlands, The Big Interview: VPZ director Doug Mutter, The Scotsman, 29 April 2019, accessed 13 July 2022
  8. VPZ, Vaporized has rebranded to VPZ, website blog, 4 January 2019, archived September 2020, accessed September 2022
  9. CCHG Ltd: Full accounts made up to 31 December 2018, Companies House, accessed July 2022, available from OpenCorporates
  10. RT812 Ltd: Charges, Companies House, accessed September 2022
  11. CCHG Ltd: Full accounts made up to 31 December 2020, Companies House, accessed July 2022, available from OpenCorporates
  12. RT812 Ltd: Total exemption full accounts made up to 31 October 2021, Companies House, accessed September 2022, available from Open Corporates
  13. VPZ, IQOS, website, undated, accessed July 2022
  14. Douglas Mutter, LinkedIn profile, accessed July 2022
  15. William Rooney, LinkedIn profile, accessed July 2022
  16. Ian Henderson, LinkedIn profile, accessed July 2022
  17. Speaking up for the vape industry, Scottish Grocer, 1 March 2022, accessed July 2022
  18. The Media Mole, SNP conference just held an event about vaping, sponsored by a vape and tobacco company, The New Statesmen, 14 October 2019, accessed October 2022
  19. VPZ, Vape Clinic Booking, website, undated, accessed July 2022
  20. S.Reid, Edinburgh vaping firm VPZ takes wraps off first ‘vape clinic’, The Scotsman, 7 July 2021, accessed 13 July 2022
  21. ASH Scotland, E-mail communication with ASA, 30 August 2022
  22. VPZ, VPZ and Razor Ruddock call for a complete ban on smoking, website,  10 March 2022, accessed July 2022
  23. Ban smoking and develop a strategy to support people to switch to vaping, Petition to UK parliament, undated, accessed July 2022
  24. abBan smoking in Scotland and develop a strategy for vaping, Scottish Parliament petition, 17 May 2022, accessed July 2022
  25. abcL. Donnelly, Mental health hospital to hand out free e-cigarettes to those trying to quit smoking, The Telegraph, 17 October 2019, accessed 15 July 2022
  26. Consider urgent action to grant specialist vape retailers essential status, petition.parliament.uk, accessed July 2022
  27. G.Nott, Vape brand VPZ launches petition for essential status for the sector, The Grocer, 18 February 2021, accessed July 2022
  28. Frontline worker giveaway, VPZ.co.uk, 10 July 2020, accessed July 2022
  29. A. Selby, Vape firm says thank you to frontline NHS staff with vouchers for e-cigs, 11 August 2020, accessed 15 July 2022
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