A Birmingham firm is a step closer to seeing its e-cigarettes classified as medicines – a move that could see the firm supplying the devices for NHS prescriptions.
Nicolites, based in Aston, said it was “well-advanced” in talks with the medicines regulator over plans to have its products prescribed by medical professionals.
It is one of two known manufacturers – alongside a subsidiary of British American Tobacco – to apply for a licence from regulatory body Nice, amid ongoing scrutiny into tobacco substitutes by the EU and advertising watchdogs.
The news – which comes shortly after a major boost with Tesco Express signing up to sell its products – stands to give Nicolites a competitive advantage as the status of “medicine”.
However, ministers in England look set to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to under 18s, with Wales and Scotland likely to follow suit.
Nikhil Nathwani, managing director of Nicolites, said the company hoped to achieve marketing authorisation some time this year.
Mr Nathwani said the firm was working closely with the Government and Nice. “This will be continued even after marketing authorisation has been achieved,” he said.
The European parliament shunned UK attempts to make medicinal licensing compulsory for e-cigarettes last autumn.
However, anti-smoking therapies such as gums, patches, an inhaler, and a mouthspray already have medicine licences and have been endorsed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which advises on good practice and value for money.
Being granted medicine status by regulator the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority stands to open up new avenues to promote internationally, including in sponsorship deals.
While it represents a major step forward in having e-cigarettes recognised as a means to stop smoking, decisions on whether their products are prescribed on the NHS will be made by local commissioning groups.
Meanwhile, the Committees of Advertising Practice are also about to launch a consultation on new rules to cover e-cigarettes, used by 1.3 million people in Britain last year.
E-cigarettes classed only as consumer products from 2016 will have to carry health warnings that nicotine is highly addictive.
The latest progress on the licensing front follows a major commercial boost for Nicolites as it signed a deal to become the shirt sponsor of Birmingham City FC.
It has also agreed a deal to supply to more than 1,000 Tesco Express stores nationwide. It already supplies the retail giant’s superstores, pharmacies and health and beauty sections.
Mr Nathwani said: “It is a significant deal and continues the trend of Nicolites e-cigarettes becoming more and more prominent in this rapidly evolving category.
“We expect to achieve excellent sales as a result of this deal which will enable more smokers to make the switch from tobacco to e-cigarettes.”
As the biggest-selling e-cigarette brand in the UK, Nicolites last year secured more than 40 per cent of the independent retailer and convenience store market, with the nearest competitor recording sales of around half that of Nicolites.
In 2013, turnover leapt from £6 million to £23 million. Among the national retailers it supplies are Sainsbury’s, ASDA, Superdrug, Co-op and WH Smith.
Nicolites ordered to halt Kicks Butt ad campaign
• A Nicolites advert has been banned after a watchdog raised concerns about its similarity with a major stop smoking campaign.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the ad for Nicolites e-cigarettes must not appear again after ruling that it breached regulations by implying that the device could be used as an aid to stop smoking.
The ASA said the poster, headlined with the words “Kicks Butt”, was similar to the stop smoking campaign “Kick Butt”, and consumers were likely to associate the two.
Two people complained that the ad was misleading because it implied that the product could be used to help quit smoking.