Vapes, or e-cigarettes, have exploded in recent years.
According to data from the UK public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), an estimated 2.8 million adults in Britain now use electronic cigarettes. That’s up from just 700,000 in 2012 when it first started tracking the habit.
Users are divided between 1.4m smokers and 1.3m ex-smokers, and most take up the devices to help them stop or cut back on cigarette smoking and the harmful toxins it brings.
South African firm Afrigetics is hoping to harness this movement with its launch of a nicotine-free botanical vape, AfriVape, which it says offers a more efficient oral delivery mechanism than pills that must pass by the stomach. Its first product contains extracts of antimicrobial Eucalyptus and Pelargonium flowers.
“This is just an extraction of the idea that vaping is a delivery mechanism for an active ingredient,” Steven Hurt, founder of Afrigetics, told us. “I see this as kind of like inventing the syringe in a time when people are only using capsules.”
‘I don’t smoke’
Launching the product at the industry event Health ingredients Europe (HiE), Hurt said there had been mixed feedback but people tended to either love or hate the idea with few people in between.
Some ex-smokers for example were put off by the association with e-cigarettes, as were people who had never smoked.
“Part of the issue is people accepting this new technology and delivery mechanism. That’s going to be a marketing problem to change.”
Yet this association with smoking would not last, he said.
“Vaping is only associated with smoking currently. But if you project vaping into five years, Millennials won’t see [vaping] as unhealthy.”
Indeed he said there was huge potential for medicinal vaping, particularly for asthmatics who already use inhalers as a treatment.
Regulatory grey zone
Yet so novel is this idea, it remains unclear whether nutritional vapes will be regulated as a food supplement or medical device or both.
“The world is busy deciding how to categorise vaping,” Hurt said. “I’m not worried though because if [the product] works it will be regulated one way or another and it will make it to market one way or another.”
Ultimately this would be down to the regional partners the company is now searching to take the product to market and iron out regulatory kinks, he said.
The same goes for dosages stated on pack. The AfriVape product contains enough liquid for about 300 herbal inhalations.
Reinventing the pill
Afrigetics is not the only company looking at new formats to deliver traditional botanical ingredients.
The French company Erbalab launched a range of 16 sprays that use airless pump bottles inspired by the cosmetics industry this year.
Discussing the move at the time the company said it was a way of reinventing old fashioned botanical pills.
“With this format, it’s more fun and unique. You want to take it each day and you’re looking forward to taking it. So it enables you to go to the end of the treatment,” president Nicolas Brodetsky told us.