Use of SNP across Asia varies considerably but overall, it is still at a low level compared
to consumption of combustible and smokeless products.
In Burning Issues: The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction 2020, we estimated
that there were 68 million nicotine vapers globally in 2020. For this briefing, we have
updated our estimates with data for 2021, with a focus on Asia.
In 2021, we estimate that there are 19.2 million nicotine
vapers living in Asia.14 We
estimate the largest populations of vapers are in China (7.7m or 0.6% of the population)
followed by Japan (2.7m or 2.4% of the population), India (2.6m or 0.3% of the
population) and Indonesia (2.1m or 1.0% of the population).
In terms of nicotine vaping prevalence, our estimates show that Malaysia is the highest
in the region, at 4% of the adult population (1m), followed by Japan at 2.4% (2.7m),
Singapore at 2% (103k) and Brunei at 2% (7k).
19.2 million the estimated number of nicotine vapers in Asia in 2021
Current prevalence of nicotine vaping in Asia 2021
With the highest vaping prevalence in Asia, our research suggests that Malaysia has
one vaper for every five smokers. In both Japan and Malaysia, it is younger adult
smokers who initially adopted innovative products, in a region which generally leads on
early adoption of new technology.15
Heated tobacco products (HTP) have made significant inroads and are marketed in
Japan, South Korea and Malaysia. There has been considerable uptake in Japan and
South Korea and globally the region holds the largest revenue share in HTP.16
Current prevalence of nicotine vaping and smoking in Asia, 2021
Japan is a good example of how innovative SNP can seriously disrupt existing tobacco
markets. The rise of HTP in Japan has been associated with a dramatic fall in cigarette
sales – by 32% – since 2014. HTP now account for a third of tobacco sales in Japan.
There could be opportunities for further falls in cigarette sales in Japan if the
government permitted the in-store sale of vaping products. Nicotine vapes have been
designated as medicinal products, and so are effectively banned – although buying
online for personal use is legal.
32% the decline in cigarette sales in Japan since the introduction of HTP
Cigarette and HTP sales in Japan, 2014–2019
Early adoption by those who might otherwise have continued smoking for decades has
benefits for individuals, families and health care systems in general, even in a higher
income country like Japan, at little or no cost to governments.
China provides an interesting contrast: around 300 million smokers17 and a
manufacturing industry which supplies much of the world with vaping products. The
Chinese vaping company Smoore is valued at nearly US$ 60bn18 and its CEO is
China’s first vaping billionaire. RLX is the number one vaping production company,
commanding over 60% of the Chinese market, with branded and other retail outlet
reach through 250 Chinese cities.19 Yet there are only around seven million vapers in
the country. Growth in consumers has been modest and most (75%) are dual users.
Only about 30% of vapers are daily users.20
The huge state-owned tobacco company – China National Tobacco Corporation
(CNTC) has subsidiaries producing vaping products, but the company accounted for
over 40% of all global cigarettes sales in 2018. CNTC currently appears to be more
focused on extending its cigarette brands further afield, in the wake of a relative
decline in domestic sales. In 2019, the CNTC’s international arm based in Hong Kong
launched into the stock market to finance market expansion.21 The expansion of the
SNP market in China will possibly hinge on whether CNTC invest more in the market
which in turn will depend on how the legislative landscape evolves.
China National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC) has subsidiaries producing vaping
products, but the company accounted for over 40% of all global cigarette sales in 2018
In March 2021, the Chinese government issued draft production standards for vaping
manufacturers. With China the manufacturing hub for such a high proportion of the
world’s vaping products, the global implications for these standards are still being
assessed at the time of writing. The draft cites a low nicotine limit of 20ml per mg
(similar to stipulations in the European Union Tobacco Products Directive) and a power
specification for devices which underpowers many of the devices currently in use.22