High-nicotine e-cigarettes dominate the U.S. market, with sales growing 15-fold in five years.

Friday January 06, 2023


According to media reports, sales of e-cigarettes with the highest nicotine content (5% or higher nicotine strength) in the U.S. market have grown significantly over the past five years, from 5% of total e-cigarette sales in 2017 to 81 % in 2022, a nearly 15-fold increase.


Single-use e-cigarettes, the most popular type of e-cigarette among young people with a variety of flavors, saw a steeper increase. More than 90 % of single-use e-cigarettes sold had the highest nicotine content, compared with 0 % in 2017. The popularity of single-use e-cigarettes soared after the product was exempted from federal restrictions on flavored e-cigarettes in 2020, with the number of high school e-cigarette users increasing by about 1000 % between 2019 and 2020.


The study, published in the Centers for Disease Control's "Nicotine and Tobacco Research" in collaboration with Verity Initiative ®, also found that the price of high-nicotine e-cigarettes has decreased or remained unchanged, while the price of lower-nicotine e-cigarettes has decreased.


The findings suggest that limiting the nicotine intensity of e-cigarettes could be part of a comprehensive tobacco control strategy to reduce youth addiction to these products.


Rapid increases in nicotine levels in e-cigarettes can be addictive for young people.


According to the U.S. National Youth Tobacco Survey, by 2022, more than 2.5 million middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes, and nearly half (46 percent) of high school students vaped almost every day, putting them on a potential developmental trajectory for a lifetime of nicotine addiction.


 Nicotine strength has been climbing as e-cigarettes have expanded to include a variety of flavors and device types. Between 2013 and 2018 alone, the average nicotine concentration in e-cigarette products increased by 106.7 % from 2.10 % to 4.34 % .


High nicotine products dominate the e-cigarette market. To measure changes in nicotine levels, the researchers examined e-cigarette retail data from brick-and-mortar retailers in the continental United States from January 2017 to March 2022. Over the past five years, sales of e-cigarettes containing more than 5% nicotine have grown significantly, from 5% in 2017 to 81% in 2022.


Between 2017 and 2022, unit share sales of high-nicotine products increased nearly 15-fold, and dollar share sales increased more than 13-fold.


Regardless of device type and flavor, products with the highest nicotine content account for the majority of e-cigarette sales. For example, most e-cigarettes marketed in other (96 percent), menthol (87 percent), menthol (79 percent), and tobacco (61 percent) flavors have nicotine concentrations of 5 % or higher.


Between 2017 and 2022, sales of single-use e-cigarettes with more than 5 % nicotine rose from 0 % to more than 90 % of the market, and sales of pre-filled cartrifts rose from 8 % to 74 %. On the other hand, products with less than 1 % nicotine strength, including zero-nicotine products, accounted for less than 0.1 % of sales.


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The price of high-nicotine e-cigarettes has plummeted


The increase in market share and sales of high nicotine e-cigarettes corresponded with the decrease in price. By 2022, higher nicotine products will become cheaper or stay the same, while lower nicotine products will become more expensive. Between 2017 and 2022, the price of products with 1-2% nicotine strength rose from $10.40 to $29.20, while the price of products in the 4-5% range fell from $20 to just $12.80. Because young people are price sensitive, lowering the price of high nicotine e-cigarettes could lead to more product uptake and use.


National standards for nicotine content


There are no U.S. limits on nicotine concentrations in e-cigarettes.


In June 2022, the Biden administration included in its agenda a plan to reduce nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels.


The Truth Initiative believes that reducing nicotine to non-addictive levels must be extended to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.