2: Use of safer nicotine products
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).
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.
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
Methods for estimating the number of nicotine vapers can be found in the Annex to Shapiro, H. (2020). Burning Issues:
Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction 2020. Knowledge-Action-Change.
https://gsthr.org/resources/item/burning-issues-global-state-tobacco-harm-reduction-2020. Data for Asia have been adjusted for this report to 2021 projections.
Read the annex online at: https://gsthr.org/report/2020/burning-issues/annex
- In Japan, the average age of a HTP consumer is now over 30 suggesting adoption by older age groups from initial take-up.
- Asia Pacific Heat-Not-Burn Tobacco Product Market is Projected to Grow at a CAGR of 14.6% During the Forecast Period,
2019-2025 – ResearchAndMarkets.com. (2020, January 29). AP NEWS.
- In the GSTHR Burning Issues report, the number of smokers was calculated using point estimates of smoking prevalence
for 2018, and population data for adults (15+) for 2018. In this report, the number of smokers was calculated using
projections of smoking prevalence for 2021, and population data for adults (15)+ for 2021. In both reports, the source of
smoking prevalence data was the WHO. (2019). WHO global report on trends in prevalence of tobacco use 2000–2025,
third edition. World Health Organization.
https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/who-global-report-on-trends-in-prevalence-of-tobacco-use-2000-2025-third-edition, and the source of population data was the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (Ed.). (2019). World Population Prospects 2019 (Online Edition Rev. 1.; Population Division). United Nations.
- Unambiguous Investor Support for THR. (2021, January 29). Idwala Research Ltd.
- Vape News Team. (2021, February 8). RLX Technology Started A Cigarettes Revolution In…. Vape Monitor.
- Personal communication. Barnaby Page, ECigintelligence.
- Jennifer Fang. (2019, August 1). China: Tobacco and Belt and Road Initiative – the new ‘Go Global’? Blog – Tobacco Control. https://blogs.bmj.com/tc/2019/08/01/china-tobacco-and-belt-and-road-initiative-the-new-go-global/
- The news wiped $14 billion off Rlx’s market value overnight, halving its capitalisation. Rival Smoore’s Hong Kong-traded
stocks plunged 27%. Staff, R. (2021, March 23). Breakingviews – Capital Calls: China chokes its vaping startups. Reuters.