Speaker Interview with Jonathan Ng

Exclusive Interview with the Global Head of External Affairs at RELX International

Q. You will deliver a presentation focusing on “RELX Guardian Programme: Commitment to Youth Prevention .” Please could you please give us a quick overview of what you would be sharing with our audience?

Since our inception, RELX International has always been clear that our products are only for adults who are smokers or vapers. To that end, the Guardian Program is a company-wide initiative that stretches from product development to sales, preventing and discouraging the use of e-cigarettes by minors through concerted efforts with business partners and retailers to step up on-site identification. In my presentation, I’ll speak about the components of the programme and how it is an integrated part of our global vision and strategy, while highlighting all the measures that RELX International has implemented to uphold our commitment to the responsible use of our products.

Q. What do you see as the key trends in the industry at the moment?

With the plethora of options available to them, adult smokers and vapers are becoming more discerning, both in terms of their taste preferences as well as their demand for quality. In this regard, only the companies that invest significantly in product quality and reliability, and have a robust R&D pipeline that is able to cater to the preferences of smokers in order to help them switch, will thrive. That is why all RELX products are held to the highest standards, driven by technology and continuous innovation, while being consumer-centric by incorporating product specs that are based on adult smokers and vapers’ feedback.

The ongoing pandemic has obviously also affected purchasing patterns and mechanisms globally. Now, more than ever, consumers are making use of technologies, e-commerce, and innovative delivery solutions in their quest to receive products, commodities (and even services) at their doorstep. It goes without saying that with [such] great ‘power’ comes great responsibility, in that manufacturers and industry players ought to strengthen, reinforce, and continuously improve their age verification mechanics (across various touchpoints throughout the consumer journey), with the aim of ensuring that such products only reach their intended target group: adult smokers and vapers who are users of nicotine products.

Q. What future challenges and opportunities should we be looking out for in the ENDS industry?

One key challenge is the amount of misinformation that we’re seeing about the science behind this category of products. Unfortunately, some of this misinformation has the potential to influence policy, much to the detriment of adult smokers and those who care about them. I hope that regulators will continue to examine the growing literature of scientific evidence, such as that from Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians, on the potential for vape products to be a significantly better alternative to cigarettes, in their decision-making processes. In parallel, media outlets and public health institutions have a duty to properly, accurately and objectively characterize ENDS, while taking into account how harm reduction tools and strategies can complement existing public health policies.

In line with this, as the global debate around the principle and aspects of harm reduction gains traction worldwide, the industry has a role to play to raise further awareness about why and how electronic cigarettes can be better alternatives than combustible tobacco, while triggering in-depth conversations with policymakers and regulators on how to make sure of science and technology for the betterment of both products and industry. In this regard, all companies must be responsible players in order for the industry to grow. In addition to providing reliable, high quality products, it is imperative that we prevent use of these products by minors and market products responsibly.

Next, recent independent surveys such as the ones carried out by the European Commission, Public Health England, etc. point to vaping being one of the methods adult smokers are increasingly turning to in order to kick their smoking habit. Relatedly, flavours are proving to be a significant factor for adult smokers looking to switch to vaping. This said, the industry will need to strike the right balance between providing such flavours to smokers to cater to various preferences, while ensuring the way such flavours (including packaging, flavour names, etc.) are positioned and marketed does not cater to unintended audiences, namely minors.

Lastly, there is an opportunity for independent premium global vape brands to emerge to drive innovation and lead responsibly.

Q. Why do you think people should attend ENDS 2021?

The complex vaping landscape is constantly evolving with new regulations, new technologies and new scientific research findings on tobacco harm reduction. Global awareness about the availability and attributes of alternative tobacco/nicotine products is at an all-time high, which in turn makes it imperative that stakeholders involved in this industry keep themselves updated on all these developments. ENDS 2021 brings together experts from across these fields and disciplines, and promises attendees the most informative and enlightening experience.