Has the number of vape shops in our town centres reached saturation point?

Ecigwizard Ipswich range of vaping products

Ecigwizard Ipswich range of vaping products - Credit: Archant

It seemed for a while that there was a new vaping store opening up on every street corner, filling the void left when other retailers shut down. But now some people believe that the market for vaping is getting overcrowded.

Time2Vape Ipswich

Time2Vape Ipswich - Credit: Archant

Peter Taylor recently closed down the vaping store he ran in Stonham Barns Leisure & retail Village, Suffolk Vape, because he says there wasn’t enough passing trade.

“I’m not bothered to open another vape shop,” said Mr Taylor. “There are not about seven or eight now in Lowestoft town centre, which is far too many. “People think it’s a good idea to open a vaping shop because you are selling an item that’s addictive, so you are going to get repeat customers, whereas a bookshop is not going to get the same people coming every week.

“It’s better if you are in a town centre with easy parking, rather that relying on passing custom. But in most town centres now, there are just too many to make it profitable.”

In Ipswich, the vaping company Safe Smoke closed down its store on Carr Street at the end of December, leaving a sign on the door stating that the store was relocating. However, no new Safe Smoke store has since reopened in the area.

Time2Vape Ipswich

Time2Vape Ipswich - Credit: Archant

Like many town centres, Ipswich has seen an explosion of vaping stores in recent years - 12, at last count - as the craze for vaping took off at full speed.

But vaping is not without its controversy. While a study out this month found that vaping is a better way to quit smoking than nicotine gum or patches, in some countries like the UAE, the selling of e cigarettes is still illegal due to the belief that the chemicals they contain are harmful.

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The animated, colourful packaging that some vaping liquid producers use has also led to criticism in some newspapers that the vaping companies are trying to lure in children to start up the habit.

But Carl Wicko, who works at The Vaping Emporium on Northgate Street in Ipswich, claims that most of his shop’s customers are aged 30-plus.

Safe Smoke, which is now closed on Carr Street, Ipswich. Picture: Jessica Hill

Safe Smoke, which is now closed on Carr Street, Ipswich. Picture: Jessica Hill - Credit: Archant

“There’s not been an influx of young people,” he said. “But we do get a lot of customers who have never smoked before in their lives, who have decided to start vaping.

“The market for vaping stores is saturated now in Ipswich town centre. But we all try to offer products that the other shops aren’t selling.

“Our most popular flavour is menthol. The canna CBD (cannabis flavoured vape liquid) was very popular at first, but it’s died down now - I’m not sure why.”

Mr Wicko says that the vaping starter kits are very popular at this time of year, because many people’s New Years resolution was to give up smoking cigarettes and start vaping instead.

Ecigwizard Ipswich range of vaping products

Ecigwizard Ipswich range of vaping products - Credit: Archant

Last year, Public Health England (PHE) released new evidence that showed e-cigarettes are at least 95% less harmful than tobacco alternatives and should be promoted as a safe way to quit smoking.

Within the report, PHE urged NHS trusts to introduce vaping policies that help smokers give up for good.

In order to encourage people to take up vaping instead of smoking, Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals have introduced vaping zones, which has reportedly led to a huge reduction in smoking within the hospital grounds.

Clacton has recently seen several of its town centre vaping store close down lately, but one that’s still thriving is Vaporever, in West Avenue - perhaps because it’s the first vaping store in North Essex to offer its customers free e-cigarettes as an incentive to stop smoking cigarettes.

The store works with the community interest company Provide in a project funded by Essex County Council supporting smokers to quit.

“Someone will come in and buy a vaping device, and we give them four free bottles of vaping juice,” explained Vaporever’s Charlotte Ranson. “They come back in four weeks and if we find out the levels of carbon monoxide in their lungs have dropped, they can then get more liquid.”

Ms Ranson claims that vaping makes a big difference to her customers’ health. “Some of them had been smoking 60 cigarettes a day for most of their lives and have severe asthma as a result,” she said. “After switching to vaping, they tell me that they’re able to run more, and feel fitter, as well as saving a lot of money.”

Ms Ranson claims that when Vaporever opened two years ago, Clacton was full of vaping shops.

“Quite a few have since shut down,” she said. “Because of our smoking cessation programme, we have stayed in business.

“I know our manager is now thinking about opening a shop in Ipswich.”