If you take a walk around Toronto’s downtown core, you’ll notice that a lot of smokers have traded in their cigarettes for less intrusive electronic vapes. This trend has been increasingly prevalent over the past five years and doesn’t seem like it will be fading anytime soon. From vape shop ads on the TTC to regulation rallies at Queen’s Park, the visibility and culture of vaping have become prominent around the Greater Toronto Area. But why exactly has vaping become such a phenomenon in the city?
With a total population of 5,928,040 in 2016 (Statistics Canada) and a noted 19.4% of tobacco smokers in Ontario in 2013 (CBC), Toronto had an estimated 1.1 million smokers in the city at that time. These data were collected at a time when e-cigarette products were less available, but it does speak to the demographic of tobacco smokers in the city. Many current and former smokers have looked to vaping as an alternative to combustible substances. According to research done by the University of Waterloo in 2015, it’s estimated 10% of the adult population has used or tried e-cigarettes in the last 30 days. That translates to a whopping 450,000 adult vapers in the GTA alone.
Retail and Online Store Population
As the largest Canadian city, Toronto is likely to be the fastest-growing e-cigarette market as well. This becomes clear when you consider the ever-increasing number of retail vape stores operating in the Greater Toronto Area. As of 2018, the GTA is home to over 150 physical vape store locations, making up more than a third of vape stores province-wide. Particularly in the downtown core, vape shops can be found on almost every block, and some in close proximity to one another. It’s almost expected to see two or more Tim Hortons or Starbucks locations across the street from each other, but more and more independently-owned vape shops are popping up side-by-side. Contrary to what you might expect, the majority of these shops are not only staying in business, but thriving. That really says something about the vape demand in Toronto.
Boris Giller, CEO of 180 Smoke Vape Store, said, “There were only four vape stores in Toronto when we opened our flagship location in the Bloor and Yonge area in 2014. Now, you see stores opening everywhere because there are so many people looking for vape products.”
Beyond physical retail locations, many vape stores located within the Toronto area also operate via e-commerce, selling their wares nationwide. This creates an even more convenient way for stereotypically-busy adult Torontonians to buy and try e-cigarettes.
Another trend contributing to vaping in Toronto is the rise of pod system vapes, which may be prefilled with e-liquid and disposable [closed-pod systems] or reusable and refillable [open-pod systems]. Pod systems are beloved for their low maintenance requirements and simple coil replacement, making them the most user-friendly e-cigarette. Regardless of the type of pod system, these devices are extremely portable, relatively inexpensive, and easy to use, especially for new vapers.
One major example of this is the JuNo pod system, which is exclusively distributed in Ontario by Vape Mall, a Toronto-based vape wholesaler. Competing with major pod system brands like JUUL, Torontonians have embraced other pod systems, like the JuNo, based on price and flavour variety.
Misha Ras, Wholesale Director at Vape Mall, said, “Despite the wide availability of popular closed-pod systems like JuNo, JUUL and Vype in the GTA, open-pod systems still maintain at least 60 percent of the market share based on our sales data over the past few quarters. The sales mix between the open and closed of products will continue to fluctuate as improved products are introduced for both types of products.”
In the past year or so, heat-not-burn tobacco vaporizers have also hit the Canadian market. Launched by major Big Tobacco players, these devices work in a similar fashion as marijuana vaporizers, heating the tobacco to the point of vaporization, but not burning. This reduces many of the carcinogens produced in the combustion process while still maintaining the flavour and experience of smoking. With these devices available through proprietary shops, tobacconists, and vape stores throughout the GTA, even more cigarette smokers in Toronto are making the switch to this type of vaping.
Based on its dense population and market saturation, Toronto can be seen as the trendsetter when it comes to vaping technology in Canada and possibly the world. Looking to the future, Boris Giller said, “The industry is in a time of consolidation—soon you will see bigger brands emerge with better buying experiences. Regulation will encourage better business practices and professionalization throughout the market.”
Giller also noted that Torontonians’ outlook on vaping will improve, stating, “Once people begin to understand the true benefits of vaping over combustion, there will be more vapers, meaning less cigarette butts littered throughout the city.”