The number of cigarette smokers in the UAE is on the decline as global sales of vaping products get set to rise sharply, a Dubai conference has heard.
An expert told the World Tobacco Middle East event that cigarette sales now account for less than 90 per cent of the tobacco industry.
Ivan Genov, a drinks and tobacco analyst at Euromonitor International, said growth in the industry will be "difficult" in the years to come.
Mr Genov's gloomy forecast comes as a national health survey revealed the number of smokers in the UAE has declined from 11.1 per cent in 2010 to 9.1 per cent.
“For the first time, we have noticed cigarettes are now below 90 per cent volume of the tobacco industry and this is going down,” said Mr Genov.
“Growth in the tobacco industry will be difficult in the years to come.”
The global cigarette market is worth $699 billion (Dh2,500bn), with the average cost of a pack of 20 at $2.58 (Dh9.50).
Analysts said shisha was becoming more popular among young people, as it is less socially stigmatised than cigarettes and offered more flavours.
Vaping products are expected to continue to grow in popularity, rising from about 39 million users now to 64 million by 2022, becoming the leading non-combustible nicotine delivery system.
Part of the projected rise will be driven in the UAE, due to new regulations passed in February allowing the sale of vaping devices and e-cigarettes for the first time.
Manufacturers will be allowed to sell the battery-powered products as long as they meet new standards and carry health warnings similar to traditional cigarettes.
The Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology confirmed the move, with products due to be put on sale this month after the ban was lifted.
The new rules - known as UAE.S 5030 - allow the sale of electronic cigarettes, electronic pipes, electronic shisha devices plus the liquid refills.
It has previously been against the law for retailers to sell e-cigarette products - although it is not an offence to own or use one and they are widely available online.
Health officials claimed the cigarette sales slump is due to tighter tobacco regulations, better smoking cessation services and excise tax.
But tobacco producers have reported an increase in the sale of illicit cigarettes that could have distorted those figures, as poorer smokers revert to cheaper, under the counter tobacco.
Despite the changes, the Ministry of Health and Prevention said e-cigarettes will be viewed the same as tobacco products, and will not recommend devices to help smokers quit.
“The new Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (Esma) standards have been set in place following the government's efforts to curb smoking and put a stop to the illegal sale of e-cigarettes in the UAE,” a MoHP spokesman said.
“This standard is a good move to safeguard people that still choose to smoke, however it will not prohibit the behaviour of smoking.
“Vapes are treated like normal cigarettes, as they must not be smoked in public places like cinemas and shopping malls.”
Euromonitor said the latest figures showed 5,420 billion tobacco cigarettes are consumed annually, but there has been a 1.4 per cent year-on-year decline.
The tobacco industry could look to commercialise cannabis products as cigarette sales decline, the conference heard.
Cannabidiol, a cannabis extract called CBD, is found in a multitude of products and has become popular in wellness industries, touted as a pain reliever and anxiety treatment.
In 2018, sales of CBD products exceeded $350 million (Dh1,285m) in the US with the legal marijuana market forecast to reach $146.4 billion (Dh536 bn) by 2025, according to a report by American research consultants Grand View Research, Inc.
Industry researchers expect to see more tobacco companies venture into the cannabis industry, as global markets continue to open up.
Medicinal marijuana is now legal across some countries in central and South America, Asia and Europe, but remains prohibited in the UAE.
“Medications, vitamins, stimulants and cannabis will all offer alternative directions for the tobacco industry,” said Mr Genov, who claims younger people are shunning cigarettes.