Through its continued focus on innovation, coupled with an unyielding commitment to only promoting vaping to existing adult smokers, RELX International is well on its charted path to achieve its co-founder and CEO’s vision and strategy of being the leading global e-cigarette brand in the world.
In a timely and exclusive interview with Arabian Business, Bing Du outlines the innovation, R&D and research behind making RELX one of the most successful (and responsible) brands on the market today, with a presence in over 25 countries across five continents.
Du also elaborates on the company’s flagship Guardian Program, which stands firm against underage vaping and explains how RELX makes its products intentionally unattractive to minors, while ensuring their inaccessibility to youngsters.
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And he speaks about the illicit trade, be it contraband or counterfeit, of e-cigarettes and how RELX is supporting authorities across the region to counter this.
Could you give us your insight on the innovation, R&D and research which goes into making RELX one of the best brands on the market?
At RELX International, we don’t just innovate in terms of product R&D, we also innovate to be a more responsible corporate citizen.
In terms of our products, we are laser-focused on innovating to provide the best possible user experience. By working hard to understand what adult smokers and vapers want from their devices, we can home in on the vaping preferences of our users and provide them with what they want – whether that’s a device with the necessary functions that provides an outstanding experience at its price point like the RELX Essential; or a premium experience integrating the peak of closed pod system technology like the RELX Infinity.
The RELX Infinity integrates all of our R&D innovations, targeting the ideal vapor temperature, pressure, weight, draw resistance, as well as a highly leak-resistant pod structure to minimise leakage even while in low-pressure environments, like planes.
This dedication to innovation has also resulted in the creation of proprietary vaping technologies, such as RELX Super Smooth™. RELX Super Smooth™ is our performance standard and was created with over 100 R&D scientists from the RELX Lab through 76 sensory tests and adjustments which quantified smoothness through five performance indicators.
Beyond product innovation and design, we also take pride in our commitment to ensuring that our products are only marketed and sold to adults as we believe that a successful vape company must also be a responsible and ethical one.
Bing Du, Co-founder and CEO of RELX International.
As part of our corporate initiative, the “Guardian Program”, we ensure that all our business partners understand the applicable local regulations and are properly trained to handle customers’ queries and reject sales to underage customers.
We also launched the Golden Shield Program to take illicit and counterfeit vaping products off the streets. The Golden Shield team has helped authorities launch 28 criminal cases related to the illegal production and sale of illicit or copyright-infringing e-cigarette products.
Over 77,000 websites and over 6,000 social media accounts have been taken down due to the Golden Shield team’s efforts and 550,000 illicit products have been removed from the market. Being a responsible and accountable business in this aspect is a key tenet of our corporate mission as well.
Describe your vision and strategy to make RELX the leading global, e-cigarette brand?
RELX International believes that by being a responsible corporate citizen, we can become the leading global e-cigarette brand. We seek to use legitimate, responsible marketing to adult smokers and vapers to provide them with better alternatives to combustible cigarettes.
Could you elaborate on the challenge of underage smoking/vaping and how RELX is combatting this through their International Guardian Programme and other initiatives?
Since RELX International’s inception, it has been our commitment to prevent and discourage the use of e-cigarettes by minors and people who are not smokers. In order to protect minors from accessing e-cigarette products, we developed the Guardian Program, a company-wide initiative that stretches from sales and marketing.
RELX International supports effective legislation and regulation to prevent the purchase and use of our products by minors.
Relx has a presence in over 25 countries across five continents.
From our very first product packaging, RELX International has printed bold reminders on the packaging of our products and product manuals with the words, “Not for Minors” and “Keep clear of Children”. We also ensure that all our product packaging and marketing material bears a health warning, even in markets where such warnings are not required by laws.
We never use any models that are under 25 in any of our marketing material, and our official websites are all age-gated to ensure minors are not able to purchase RELX products.
While the question of flavours making vape products attractive to youth has been raised, extensive research has shown the contrary and also demonstrated that in fact flavours are crucial for helping adult smokers and vapers stay away from combustible cigarettes.
The fact is that England’s NHS currently stands by its claim that vaping is approximately 95 percent less harmful than smoking combustible cigarettes. Meanwhile, research has also shown that flavours are viewed a key factor in helping some adults quit smoking with vaping, with 69.7 percent of respondents to one survey identifying flavours as important in their attempt to quit smoking.
So, while we believe that providing adult smokers with flavoured vaping products is critical in enabling them to switch away from cigarettes, we have nonetheless decided to adopt neutral names such as “Fresh Red” and “Dark Sparkle” to further reduce their potential attractiveness to youth. We do this in all markets except those where the law requires the actual names of our flavors to be indicated on our packaging.
We also avoid establishing stores in areas with a high density of minors by carefully select locations for our official RELX Stores so that no stores are sited within 50 m from any point of the perimeter of a school, playground or other facility frequented by minors (including but not limited to: daycare/preschool, video game arcade, children’s gym, tuition centre).
In addition, RELX International has established reseller terms that include monitoring and penalties for noncompliance with the Guardian Program. The Company is committed to continuing to develop new technologies and systems to keep e-cigarette products away from minors. The company will also continue to educate commercial partners to implement and strengthen the Guardian Program at the local level.
The Golden Shield Program aims to take illicit and counterfeit vaping products off the streets.
Please give us a background on vaping regulations in the MENA region and how that is counteracting the illicit trade of counterfeit e-cigarettes which are often harmful and dangerous?
As you may know already, the MENA region is slowly but steadily moving forward. For example, the United Arab Emirates legalised electronic cigarettes back in April 2019 in a bid to regulate a market that is rapidly and exponentially growing. Other countries have been following suit, with a three-fold objective:
Provide better alternative to their adult smoking population, while ensuring vaping products adhere to strict standard regulations in terms of ingredients as well as packaging and labelling, among other aspects
Counter a growing non-excisable black (or informal) market, that was largely benefiting from the absence of regulation, therefore ensuring state treasuries collect due taxes on vaping products
Ensure the marketing, advertising, and promotion of vapes are kept in check, in line with existing or new laws
That said, benefiting from regulations in place which clearly differentiate legal products from their counterfeit and contraband counterparts, RELX International is working closely with various governmental and law-enforcement stakeholders within the framework of sharing intel about illegal products and merchandisers, carrying out training sessions for customs officials, and exchanging best practices on the fight against illicit trade.
Our core objective is to crack down on smugglers and illicit traders, while bolstering the legal and law-abiding sector, which in turn preserves the rights of manufacturers, importers and businesses; protects adult consumers of those products; and safeguards taxation revenues from the legal sale of electronic cigarettes.
Relx’s objective is to crack down on smugglers and illicit traders, while bolstering the legal and law-abiding sector.
Could you comment on RELX International’s overall vision to a world without cigarettes?
What it really comes down to is simply making the world a better place. That may sound lofty and impractical, however, since the creation of e-cigarettes, there has been a steady outpouring of research indicating e-cigarettes may have harm reduction potential for adult smokers.
As you may know, RELX International sells RELX e-vapour products globally. RELX being the leading e-vapour brand in Asia. RELX International was co-founded by myself and Kate Wang, who initially had the vision to create the RELX e-cigarette as a better alternative to the combustible cigarettes she had been smoking to cope with the intensity of a high-stress job and raising two young boys.
In the future we hope that through continued research into the harm reduction potential of our products, as well as into understanding what we can do in terms of product innovation to help even more adult smokers leave combustible cigarettes behind.
For us, it’s about leveraging harm reduction to help adult smokers who are not ready to or are unable to quit nicotine transition to a product that according to Public Health England is 95 percent less harmful than smoking, thereby reducing the burden on global public health systems, as well as helping individuals improve their lives.