Cannabis vapes had been the fastest growing product category in legal markets until late 2019, with total monthly sales across Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Oregon growing from $64 million in January 2018 to almost $160 million by August 2019.
The strong vape market was quickly upset by the arrival of the e-cigarette and vaping product associated lung injury (EVALI) crisis, which began to take a toll after the announcement of the first EVALI-related death on Aug. 23, 2019.
While vape sales have recovered from their low point in late 2019 to nearly pre-EVALI levels, vapes still account for a smaller share of legal sales than before the crisis and sales growth still lags that of several other product categories.
Monthly vape sales in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Oregon peaked at $160 million in August 2019, then quickly fell to $126 million in September after EVALI began causing deaths across the country. Sales slipped another 5% to $119 million by November, their low point for the year, then stabilized and stayed relatively flat until spring 2020 and the emergence of COVID-19.
Monthly sales jumped to $132 million in March, as COVID-19 stay-at-home orders prompted consumers to stock up on their favorite cannabis products. After the March rush, vape sales subsided to $117 million in April. Heading into summer, vapes began to recover in earnest, and monthly sales for the five states noted rose quickly from their April low to just under $160 million by July.
Though vapes have almost returned to the August 2019 sales peak, the recovery of the product category has been much rockier than expected. A portion of vapes’ struggle to stage a comeback may be due to the problems caused by COVID-19 and resulting government responses. Six months after the COVID-19 pandemic began seriously impacting the United States, vapes are still being outperformed by other product categories in several metrics.
Despite healthy sales growth in the summer, vapes still lag behind other categories in terms of share. Before the first EVALI-related death, vapes consistently held a 30% share of inhalable cannabis sales across Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Oregon, giving the category the second highest share of sales of inhalable products behind flower.
Even with vape sales nearly recovered to pre-crisis volumes, the category's share of inhalable sales is still lagging, accounting for only 22% in August. The biggest beneficiary of vapes' decline in share if flower, which has gone from a 47% share of inhalable sales in August 2019 to a 54% share in August 2020.
Vapes are also falling behind other inhalables in sales growth post-EVALI. Though the category has seen a strong growth since April 2020, other inhalable products have experienced much stronger rises recently. Flower continues to outperform vapes, while pre-roll has seen a particularly sharp rise in recent months.
A number of factors are likely behind this shift in consumption patterns—and they may be temporary. Certainly, cannabis consumers are more conscious of potential safety issues surrounding vapes. Even so, safety is a little-cited concern among consumers that tend to prefer vape products, according to BDSA consumer insights research. Higher on the list are the convenience and discreet nature of vape products. But those factors are more important for consumers on the go. In U.S. states, which are still isolating to varying degrees under COVID-19 restrictions and may be facing harsher restrictions going into winter, those benefits are less obvious and flower and pre-roll are less-expensive alternatives.